Background: Epidemiological and clinical literature point to the importance of screening for alcohol problems in medical and psychiatric settings. However, little is known about which problem drinkers seek help from those services or about the characteristics of those who have their drinking addressed.
Methods: We interviewed a probability sample of adult dependent and problem drinkers in the general population (n = 672) and consecutive admissions to chemical dependency programs in a northern California county (n = 926). We reinterviewed them 1 year later and measured medical and mental health visits and whether their drinking was addressed during the visit.
Results: Almost two-thirds of problem drinkers had a medical visit, and approximately one-third had a mental health visit, yet drinking was not often discussed, especially during medical visits. Many of those more likely to have a visit were not more likely to have their drinking addressed. Women and individuals older than 40 years had more medical and mental health visits [odds ratio (OR), 1.71; p < 0.001 and OR, 1.55; p < 0.001, respectively, for women; OR, 1.57; p < 0.05 and OR, 1.64; p < 0.05, respectively, for age >/=40 years], but were not more likely to have their drinking addressed in either setting, and women were less likely than men to have their drinking addressed in mental health settings (OR, 0.62; p < 0.05). Those with higher alcohol severity and those who had attended chemical dependency treatment during the previous year were more likely to have their drinking addressed in each setting. Insurance status predicted medical, but not mental health, visits and was not related to having drinking addressed in either setting.
Conclusions: Drinking behavior was not routinely addressed by medical and mental health practitioners for dependent and problem-drinking men and women who presented in public and private medical and mental health settings.