Doctors often miss signs of problem drinking in patients, study finds

January 15, 2013
Doctors often miss signs of problem drinking in patients, study finds
Using validated screening methods could identify many more cases, researchers say.

(HealthDay)—Doctors fail to diagnose most patients with alcohol problems when they rely solely on their suspicions, rather than using proven screening methods, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at almost 1,700 patients, and found that about 14 percent screened positive for hazardous or harmful .

Primary care doctors had suspected hazardous or harmful drinking in just 5 percent of the patients, however. And of those patients, less than two-thirds actually screened positive for a drinking problem.

In other words, the primary care doctors failed to diagnose more than 70 percent of patients with drinking problems when they relied on their suspicions rather than using screening tools, the authors reported.

According to the team, led by Dr. Daniel Vinson of the University of Missouri, the findings support the routine use of screening tools to supplement doctors' suspicions that a patient may have a drinking problem.

Two experts not connected to the study had divergent views on the findings.

Bruce Goldman is director of Substance Abuse Services at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He noted that, "high-risk drinking is a major contributor to preventable health and social problems," and primary care doctors "are uniquely positioned to screen and assess all patients' patterns of alcohol and drug use."

He agreed with the study authors that, "a few standardized screening questions, consistently asked of all patients, could quickly identify those who would benefit from either education or referral to ."

But another expert said that's easier said than done in real-world settings.

Dr. Neil Calman, chairman of and community health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, agreed that validated screening methods undoubtedly beat doctors' suspicions in uncovering problem drinking in patients.

He added, however, that it's tougher to discern how well they might be incorporated into physicians' everyday practice.

"First, most practices do not have the ability to deal with the conditions that are being detected," Calman noted. "Second, they identify many patients who do not choose to seek help for the detected issues and resources may be wasted on people who do not see the problem as something that needs to be addressed or that they want to have addressed."

Finally, Calman said, "we run the risk of keeping people out of care for other critical conditions, as may report that when they come in for an upper respiratory infection they do not want or expect to be asked about other issues which they consider highly personal and irrelevant to the reason for their visit."

As with many innovations in medicine, more research needs to be done on how to best deploy these into everyday clinical practice, Calman said.

Explore further: New study suggests clinicians overlook alcohol problems if patients are not intoxicated

More information: The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol use disorders.

Related Stories

New study suggests clinicians overlook alcohol problems if patients are not intoxicated

August 1, 2012
Medical staff struggle to spot problem drinking in their patients unless they are already intoxicated, according to research by the University of Leicester.

Asymptomatic often sent for lung cancer screening tests

March 13, 2012
(HealthDay) -- A majority of primary care physicians report ordering lung cancer screening tests for asymptomatic patients, according to research published in the March/April issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Recommended for you

New research finds drug for alcohol use disorder ineffective

February 26, 2018
A new study, published in the Addiction journal, conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool highlights the ineffectiveness of a specific drug treatment for alcohol use disorders.

Most PA students tobacco-free, but vaping and cigarette use still a concern

February 26, 2018
Most of Pennsylvania's high school and middle school students are tobacco-free, but the use of cigarettes, and their digital counterpart, e-cigarettes, is still a cause for concern, according to Penn State researchers.

Cannabinoids are easier on the brain than booze, study finds

February 9, 2018
Marijuana may not be as damaging to the brain as previously thought, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder and the CU Change Lab.

Marijuana use may not aid patients in opioid addiction treatment

December 4, 2017
Many patients who are being treated for opioid addiction in a medication-assisted treatment clinic use marijuana to help manage their pain and mood symptoms.

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox

November 23, 2017
Say you're a publicly insured Californian with an addiction to heroin, fentanyl or prescription narcotics, and you want to quit.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

November 17, 2017
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.