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

Early postpartum opioids linked with persistent usage

December 14, 2018
Vanderbilt researchers have published findings indicating that regardless of whether a woman delivers a child by cesarean section or by vaginal birth, if they fill prescriptions for opioid pain medications early in the postpartum ...

Drug wholesalers drove fentanyl's deadly rise, report concludes

December 4, 2018
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid implicated in nearly 29,000 overdose deaths in the United States last year, most likely spread because of heroin and prescription pill shortages, and also because it was cheaper for drug ...

College students choose smartphones over food

November 16, 2018
University at Buffalo researchers have found that college students prefer food deprivation over smartphone deprivation, according to results from a paper in Addictive Behaviors.

Drug overdose epidemic goes far beyond opioids, requires new policies

November 7, 2018
Most government-funded initiatives to address the overdose epidemic in the United States have targeted opioids specifically and have neglected other drugs that are increasingly implicated in overdoses, such as cocaine and ...

Cocaine adulterant may cause brain damage

November 1, 2018
People who regularly take cocaine cut with the animal anti-worming agent levamisole demonstrate impaired cognitive performance and a thinned prefrontal cortex. These findings from two recent studies at the University of Zurich ...

Poverty blamed on widening north-south gap in young adult deaths in England

November 1, 2018
A major study of mortality across England led by University of Manchester data scientists blames socioeconomic deprivation for sharp rises in deaths among 22 to 44-year-olds living in the North of England.

0 comments

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.