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Task Force Recommends Alcohol Screening During Physicals

Update Date: May 14, 2013 11:28 AM EDT

Routine doctor checkups often focus on physical symptoms, such as illnesses and pain. Although these checkups have traditionally concentrated on physical wellness, more and more health experts have suggested that these annual visits to primary care physician should start to incorporate more questions regarding mental wellbeing and risky behaviors. A panel of experts decided to study whether or not alcohol screening would benefit a patient's overall health. The task force discovered that doctors tend to screen adolescents only, but not adults because teenagers tend to be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse. However, the task force found that if primary care physicians started asking patients about alcohol use, the doctors could help provide intervention methods.  

Alcohol abuse, which ranges from overindulging to addiction, is third on the list of preventable deaths within the United States. Nearly 21 percent of adults report participating in risky drinking behaviors, which lead to both physical and mental complications. Based from these facts and statistics, a panel of experts known as the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) analyzed current data, compiled between 1985 and 2011, to determine whether or not intervention during a routine physical would help with preventing alcohol abuse. On top of the data, the task force also looked at published reviews that studied the effects of alcohol screenings from 2006 to 2011.

The study had evaluated different counseling strategies for alcohol usage in adults, pregnant women and adolescents. Based from their findings, the task force believes that screening for all adults 18 and older as well as pregnant women should be incorporated in every physical. The task force found that by screening all adults for alcohol misuse, doctors could actually help determine who might be high-risk for alcohol abuse. By marking which patients were at higher risks for alcohol abuse, doctors could start counseling therapies, such as stress management, drinking diaries and face-to-face meetings, to help lower people's risk.

"Nearly 30% of adults drink more alcohol than is considered healthy and there are serious consequences for themselves, their families, and their communities. For example, alcohol misuse contributes to more than 85,000 preventable deaths each year," Sue Curry, the Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa and a member of the task force stated.

The researchers discovered that the most effective tactic that they used in their study was behavioral intervention, which only took 10 to 15 minutes. Behavioral intervention occurs when a doctor, nurse or any other medical provider informs the patient of risky alcohol behaviors and what these behaviors could lead to.

"As an update to our 2004 recommendation, [it] will reinforce to providers that they can affect patients' lives for the better by asking them a few simple questions and offering counseling to those who drink more alcohol than they should," Curry stated.

The full report can be found here

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