Feds Push Doctor Talks To Combat Excessive Drinking

CDC director tackles America’s excessive alcohol consumption

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control’s Director Tom Frieden wants American doctors to turn to an often overlooked treatment for America’s heavy drinking habits: a conversation.

A short one-on-one dialogue between healthcare professionals and patients about how much they drink can effectively reduce people’s excessive alcohol consumption, he said. According to the new CDC report that surveyed 2011 self-reports from 48 states and the District of Columbia, the discussions are not happening in five out of six doctor visits.

“The goal is to have a conversation,” said Frieden, who says that most problem drinkers are not alcoholics. “We’re not saying no one should drink.”

According to Frieden, 38 million American adults, or about 16%, drink too much, which the CDC defines as more than one drink for a woman and more than two drinks for a man in any one sitting. Three out of four people in that group binge drink, defined as three or more drinks for women, four or more drinks for men in a sitting.

The casual habit causes heart problems, affects fetus growth for pregnant women, and can lead to car accidents, violence and unsafe sexual activity. Excessive drinking’s medical impact drains the country of $200 billion yearly, according to the CDC.

Frieden suggests health providers talk to patients about the dangers, with counseling aimed at reducing a person’s alcohol intake and eradicating irresponsible drinking behaviors by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, with patients to encourage healthier lifestyles. He describes the discussions as “motivational interviewing” during which doctors help patients define their drinking habits, explore problems caused by consumption, and set realistic goals to reduce intake.

The Affordable Care Act, the new health insurance reform law signed by President Barack Obama, requires health insurance plans to cover doctor screenings of patients for alcohol addiction at no additional copayment.

“When ever doctors discuss substance abuses with patients, it does cause those people involved to not only become concerned, but also reduce their consumption,” said Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s CEO Arthur Dean, citing on his company’s experience with intervention work.