January 2014 Vital Signs Issue: Alcohol Screening and Counseling

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on January 26, 2014

“At least 38 million adults drink too much and most are not alcoholics. Drinking too much includes binge drinking, high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under age 21. It causes about 88,000 deaths in the US each year, and costs the economy about $224 billion. Alcohol screening and brief counseling can reduce drinking on an occasion by 25% in people who drink too much, but only 1 in 6 people has ever talked with their doctor or other health professional about alcohol use. Talking with a patient about their drinking is the first step of screening and brief counseling, which involves:

  • Using a set of questions to screen all patients for how much and how often they drink.
  • Counseling patients about the health dangers of drinking too much, including women who are (or might be) pregnant.
  • Referring only those few patients who need specialized treatment for alcohol dependence.

Doctors and other health professionals can use alcohol screening and brief counseling to help people who are drinking too much to drink less. The Affordable Care Act requires new health insurance plans to cover this service without a co-payment.”

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