Recent statistics reveal that only one of six U.S. adults reported ever discussing alcohol consumption with a health professional.  

The CDC analyzed Behavioral Risk factor Surveillance system data from August 1 to December 31, 2011, regarding patient-reported communication with a health professional about alcohol. 

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Estimates of prevalence at the state-level were analyzed for 166,753 adults aged >18 years old by selected demographic characteristics and drinking behaviors.

Results showed that the prevalence of ever discussing alcohol use with a health professional was 15.7% of adults overall, 17.4% among current drinkers, and 25.4% among binge drinkers. 

No state or district had more than 1 in 4 adults report that a health professional communicated with them about their drinking, and only 17% of pregnant women reported this. 

Since 2004, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended alcohol misuse screening and behavioral counseling (also known as alcohol screening and brief intervention [ASBI]) for adults to address excessive alcohol use.  

This new CDC data confirms that increased implementation of ASBI, including systems-level changes such as integration into EHR processes, is needed to help reduce excessive alcohol consumption and the harms related to it.

Some barriers to effective screening and counseling identified by healthcare professional include lack of time, training, and self-efficacy; discomfort discussing the topic; perceived difficulty working with substance use patients; skepticism of treatment effectiveness; patient resistance; and lack of insurance coverage.

Methods to addressing these barriers include:

  • Increased training and education by health professional organizations
  • Systems-level changes by health plans and insurers
  • Development and testing of an implementation plan
  • Use of variety of health professionals to screen all patients and intervene with those who screen positive for drinking too much through the use of approved guidelines
  • Electronic screening and brief intervention (eg, use of computers, telephones or mobile devices)

In addition to these methods, ASBI is being considered for inclusion as a meaningful use measure in the electronic health records process. If included and then implemented, this strategy might increase its use as well.

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