Background: Early recognition of and intervention in risky alcohol consumption has been shown to be an effective way to reduce the harm. However, primary care physicians are still not screening for and intervening sufficiently in their patients' alcohol misuse.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore factors having an effect on primary health care physicians inquiring about patients' alcohol consumption.
Method: A qualitative study of primary care physicians' experiences and views based on tape recorded semi-structured interviews was carried out on all physicians (n = 35) working at four health centres in Eastern Finland.
Results: Seven main categories were identified that either prevent or promote discussion about alcohol consumption: the sensitive nature of alcohol drinking; the reason for consultation; awareness of a patient's alcohol problem; patient factors; availability of intervention tools; expectations of effectiveness of interventions; and lack of time.
Conclusions: There still exist many barriers to initiating discussions about alcohol in the consultation room. Changing the frame of reference of the concept of alcohol drinking from an addictive disease to a general lifestyle risk factor could overcome many of these barriers.