Screening and brief intervention for alcohol problems, delivered during routine patient visits to their doctor’s office, can be just as effective as common preventative measures like childhood immunizations and advising patients to take aspirin to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attacks. But few doctors screen patients for alcohol, the Health Behavior News Service reported Jan. 8.
Brief alcohol interventions are among the top five most cost-effective preventatives, researchers said, and are at least as effective as Pap smears or bowel-cancer screenings. In a review of multiple studies, screening was credited with reducing problem drinking by an average of 17.4 percent over time periods ranging from six months to two years. Each 10-minute screening costs about $10, the authors said.
However, only 8.7 percent of people with drinking problems reported receiving any screening or advice from their primary-care physician, researchers said.
“I think most of my fellow physicians would think that their impact on alcohol use is close to zero,” said lead author Leif Solberg, M.D., associate medical director for care improvement research at Health Partners in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Alcohol screening and brief therapy are very cost-effective compared to other recommended medical services, yet they are employed least often of any of them,” added Alex DeLuca, M.D., former chief and medical director of the Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center in New York.
The research appears in the February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.