Excessive alcohol consumption is a known major factor in the development of a range of serious health problems, including alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Doctors and other health professionals can play a critical role in preventing these problems by discussing the dangers of excessive consumption with their patients. However, according to the results of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in January 2014, less than 20 percent of American adults review their drinking patterns with their doctors or receive advice on alcohol-related issues.
Excessive Consumption Basics
Excessive alcohol consumption, also known as heavy drinking, has different meanings in different contexts. For the average adult man, excessive consumption is typically defined as imbibing at least five drinks on any single day or at least 15 drinks in a single week. The average adult woman reaches an excessive level of alcohol intake when she consumes at least four drinks on any single day or at least eight drinks in a single week. Excessive consumption also occurs in people who participate in binge drinking by getting drunk no more than two hours after taking a first drink. Pregnant women and all individuals under the legal drinking age participate in excessive consumption when they partake in any amount of alcohol.
According to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no fewer than 38 million American adults meet at least one of the definitions for excessive alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking can lead to the onset of diagnosable symptoms of alcoholism (one form of alcohol use disorder); however, most people who drink heavily do not qualify for such a diagnosis.
The Role of Doctors and Other Professionals
Doctors and other health professionals can help prevent excessive alcohol consumption by routinely conducting alcohol screenings for all patients and providing alcohol-related information in the form of short counseling sessions. Alcohol screenings are designed to gather crucial information on a person’s habitual patterns of alcohol intake, while counseling sessions can come in forms that include face-to-face informative conversations, informational pamphlets or brochures, and websites or Internet-based programs.
Current figures indicate that the consistent, appropriate use of alcohol screenings and alcohol-related counseling could help the average heavy drinker cut his or her customary level of alcohol intake by one-quarter in any given situation. In addition, screenings and counseling can help improve the overall health of the adult population and help lower the amount of money spent on healthcare. Commonly accepted public health guidelines call for the regular use of both alcohol screenings and brief counseling for all adults.
Lack of Discussion
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gathered information on the frequency of patient/doctor alcohol use discussions from several surveys that included a total of 166,753 adults. These adults resided in 44 of the 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia. Less than 17 percent of the surveyed participants have ever discussed their habitual patterns of alcohol consumption with their doctors, or with a nurse or some other qualified professional. The highest rate for these discussions (25 percent) occurs in Washington, D.C.; in the majority of the 44 states involved, discussion rates stand well below 25 percent.
The CDC report breaks down the discussion rates for various at-risk population groups. Among binge drinkers, the rate of discussion on alcohol-related topics stands at roughly 25 percent. Among extreme binge drinkers, who get drunk at least 10 times a month, the likelihood of having a conversation about alcohol with a medical professional rises to only about 33 percent. Only about one out of every six pregnant women in the U.S. reviews her drinking behaviors with a doctor, nurse or some other qualified professional.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report outlines several situations in which alcohol screenings and alcohol-related counseling could and should occur. Examples of these situations include visits to a primary doctor by the average adult, visits to an obstetrician/gynecologist by a pregnant woman, visits to the emergency room and visits to specialized trauma care facilities. Doctors and other professionals can help make sure screenings and counseling sessions happen by doing such things as making sure that all staff members are well-educated on alcohol-related issues, making clear plans to implement current alcohol-related public health guidelines and making sure that all essential staff members know how to conduct both alcohol screenings and brief counseling sessions.