Screen Adults for Alcohol Misuse, Task Force Says

All adults should be screened for alcohol misuse, a government panel says, and offered short counseling sessions to help them curb their drinking.

About a third of people in the U.S. drink to excess or engage in risky drinking, and that behavior is responsible for 85,000 preventable deaths yearly.

Those sobering statistics prompted the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to issue a draft recommendation this week on screening and counseling to cut alcohol misuse, a reaffirmation of one made in 2004.

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This time around the suggestions were based on a study published online this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine in which the task force analyzed 23 clinical trials on alcohol counseling interventions for adults and teens. For the most part the trials didn’t include people who were dependent on alcohol.

Among those interventions the most benefits were seen after several short counseling sessions that lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. Alcohol consumption among adults who went that route dropped by an average 3.6 drinks per week, and 12 percent fewer people engaged in bouts of heavy drinking. In addition, 11 percent more adults said they drank amounts that were below recommended limits.

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Results among teens weren’t as conclusive. “While underage drinking is a serious public health problem, we don’t know enough about what works in the primary care setting to help keep teens safe and sober,” task force member Susan Curry said in a news release. “We need more research on this important topic.”

Curry told the New York Times, “This says, ‘Let’s pay attention. You may want to take a look at how you are drinking. If it escalates, you’re at risk, but you can change that now.’ ”

Pregnant women are included in the counseling recommendations. In the Annals paper one study of expectant mothers found that interventions helped them stay on the wagon longer.

Since the statement is in draft form, the public can comment before the task force makes its final recommendation. 

Would you mind going through a routine screening for alcohol misuse? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |

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