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New Guidelines Say Doctors Should Screen All Adults for 'Risky' Drinking
Date:5/14/2013

nce. Dependence involves a physical addiction to alcohol, while alcohol abuse means that drinking causes problems in people's personal and work lives.

LeFevre said there's good evidence that brief counseling from a primary care doctor -- even a single session of five to 15 minutes -- can be enough to get people to cut down on their drinking.

"Brief interventions are effective for people who are at the risky-drinking stage," LeFevre said. However, people with more serious drinking problems will likely need more help, or referral to a specialist program, he added.

Alcohol misuse is a common problem, Schuckit said. An estimated 21 percent of U.S. adults admit to risky drinking, while about 4 percent are thought to have full-blown alcohol dependence, according to the task force. Problem drinking is also blamed for more than 85,000 deaths each year in the United States, which makes it the third-leading cause of preventable deaths behind smoking and obesity.

"In my opinion, all clinicians should be screening for alcohol problems and offering brief interventions," Schuckit said.

He and LeFevre said any primary care doctor can learn brief counseling techniques. These might include helping patients find healthy ways to reduce stress or set goals for curbing their drinking.

When it comes to teenagers, though, the task force said there is not enough evidence to recommend routine screening.

"We don't know enough," LeFevre said. "We can't assume that what we've found to work for adults also works for kids." There's no agreement, for example, on whether there's a "safe" level of drinking for a teenager, he said. So would doctors have to intervene with all teens who admitted to any amount of drinking?

"We are not saying that adolescent drinking is an issue doctors should ignore. It is a problem," LeFevre said. "This is really a call to the research community that we need more evidence [on screening teenagers]."

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