Doctors need to talk about alcohol, CDC urges

 This is too much alcohol for a woman to have in a week, public health officials say.
This is too much alcohol for a woman to have in a week, public health officials say.

Has your doctor ever asked you about your drinking habits? If so, you’re in the minority. Most doctors never ask about alcohol, even though it’s responsible for 88,000 American deaths each year. Government health officials would like such screening to become routine since evidence suggests it can actually help people cut back on how much they excessively drink by 25 percent.

“If doctors use preconceived notions of who may be at risk for alcohol abuse, they get it wrong,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a media briefing. He’d like to see physicians take five minutes during an office visit to ask patients about their drinking habits.

Only 1 in 6 American adults say they’ve discussed alcohol consumption with their doctor, and only 1 in 4 binge drinkers have, according to a new report released Tuesday by the CDC, based on 2011 survey data.

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Excess alcohol consumption is defined as having 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week, for a man, or 8 or more drinks per week, for a woman.

The CDC estimates that at least 38 million American adults drink too much—and most are not alcoholics. Excess drinking, even when not a full-blown addiction, raises a person’s risk of liver problems, breast cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases. The behavior also increases the likelihood of dying in a car crash or being a victim of an act of violence.

Alcohol screening is a simple technique that “can be taught to any health professional,” Frieden said, “and involves defining how much patients drink, the problems that come with excess alcohol, and a plan for reducing consumption.”