Should US doctors screen for alcohol abuse?

Many Americans have a problem regulating how much alcohol they drink. While not everyone is an avid offender, it’s not uncommon for drinkers to engage in risky behavior either.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is highlighting a new recommendation in hopes of curbing that trend. Their review, published in the JAMA Network on Tuesday, found that general care physician screening can help.

They’re recommending that these doctors conduct screening for alcohol misuse in adults over 18. If patients are found to be drinking too much, “brief counseling” should follow.


“The net benefit of screening and brief behavioral counseling interventions for unhealthy alcohol use in adults, including pregnant women, is moderate,” states the paper.

Yes, it’s true. Overusing alcohol has turned into a nationwide problem.

The review attests that nearly 90,000 deaths from 2006-2010 were related to alcohol. That included both injuries from car accidents and alcohol overuse.

Many professionals agree that something must be done. That’s why the USPSTF committed to their investigation in the first place.

However, the evidence behind their recommendation appears limited.

The USPSTF came to their conclusion based on evidence with physicians who already provide some screening. But no studies actually evaluated the effectiveness of alcohol screening directly.

Perhaps this new recommendation warrants a formal study.


At the same time, evidence also proved inconclusive as to the benefits of screening adolescents (those between ages 12 and 17).

Furthermore, other hurdles for the USPSTF recommendation include how much burden it could place on doctors’ already weighty responsibilities.

Yes, a simple screening question like “How much alcohol do you drink?” might provide some accountability.

But if patients answer yes, how much time and effort should doctors spend on the “brief counseling?” Likewise, how will they evaluate whether their efforts are successful?

There are no current standards for alcohol recovery as it is.

In addition, such screening could place the burden of responsibility on doctors rather than alcohol users.

Perhaps screening by general care doctors is a good idea. However, the evidence may not be strong enough to implement rigorous change.

Researchers should look into other means of catching and treating alcohol misuse. In the meantime, at least general care doctors can choose whether they will conduct screening in their own practices.

What is Alcohol Misuse?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and twp per day for men.

Anything above four drinks per day for men (or three for women) is considered alcohol misuse. Binge drinking isn’t far beyond that level either.

The point is that alcohol users have to be careful. It’s easy to go past the recommended amounts, especially with holiday celebrations coming up.

Whether or not general care doctors decide to screen, alcohol users should take responsibility. They should not exceed recommended alcohol amounts, and that includes carefully monitoring the type of alcohol too.

According to the CDC, one drink is defined as:

?       12 ounces of beer

?       8 ounces of malt liquor

?       5 ounces of wine

?       1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or hard liquor (3)

Alcohol users should do their best to stay educated on and aware of their drinking habits. If people find themselves taking risks or binge drinking, they should seek help and accountability from friends, family and notable recovery centers.