Screening for alcoholism in the primary care setting: are we talking to the right people?

J Fam Pract. 2002 Jan;51(1):41-6.


Background: This study assessed which demographic groups were most likely to consume alcohol excessively, and which groups had received inquiries and discussion about alcohol use from their physicians compared with discussions about other health risks.

Study design: This was a cross-sectional study using data from the Centers for Disease Control Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System 1997 data set that represents a stratified random sample in the United States.

Population: We selected 23,349 adults who reported a routine physical examination within the last 3 years.

Outcomes measured: The main variables involved responses to questions about alcohol intake and whether the respondent's physician had initiated discussions about drinking.

Results: Physicians spoke to patients about alcohol use much less frequently than about other health-related behaviors. Discussions were roughly targeted to groups with the largest intake. However, physicians were least likely to speak with white patients, women, and widows who drank significantly.

Conclusions: Regularly asking patients about alcohol use could substantially reduce the under-recognition of alcoholism. Since brief counseling is effective, negative consequences of excessive alcohol intake may be avoided.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Examination*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Sex Factors
  • United States