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Pediatricians Could Help Screen for Alcohol Abuse in Home

Special bond between doctor, parents opens way to discuss habits, offer treatment referrals

TUESDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Parents are willing to discuss their drinking habits with their children's pediatricians, who could then screen parents for alcoholism and refer them for evaluation or treatment, a new study finds.

"Pediatricians, with their commitment to child health, frequent interactions with parents, and close relationships with both children and families, have a unique opportunity to screen parents for alcohol use and refer them for further assessment and treatment," study lead author Dr. Celeste Wilson, a researcher and pediatrician in the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR) at Children's Hospital Boston, said in a hospital news release.

The study included 879 parents whose children were treated at three pediatric primary-care clinic sites -- one rural, one suburban and one urban. The parents filled out an anonymous questionnaire that included two brief alcohol screening tests and assessed the parents' preferences regarding alcohol use screening.

Almost 90 percent of the parents were open to being asked about their alcohol use at their child's pediatric appointments, including more than 75 percent of those with a positive alcohol screen. The top three preferred alcohol use screening methods among the parents were direct conversation with the pediatrician, computer-based questionnaires, and paper-pencil questionnaires.

The preference for screening by a pediatrician over other medical staff, such as nurses or medical assistants, likely results from the special quality of the parent-pediatrician relationship, the researchers said.

The researchers also expressed concern that 11.5 percent of the 879 parents in the study had a positive alcohol screen, a high percentage for a volunteer-only study.

"It is possible that those parents who declined participation in the study were the ones with the most severe alcohol problems. However, if this is true, our results represent an underestimate of the actual problem," Wilson said.

The study was published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Children of alcoholics are at increased risk for behavioral, cognitive and mental health problems, are more likely to witness domestic violence, and have a greater risk of becoming victims of all forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. In addition, children of alcoholics are three to four times more likely to have alcohol problems later in life, according to background information in the news release about the study.

More information

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has more about children of alcoholics.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Children's Hospital Boston, news release, Nov. 3, 2008

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