Still a difficult business? Negotiating alcohol-related problems in general practice consultations

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Nov;63(9):2418-28. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.05.025. Epub 2006 Jun 30.


This paper describes general practitioners' (GPs) experiences of detecting and managing alcohol and alcohol-related problems in consultations. We undertook qualitative research in two phases in the North-East of England. Initially, qualitative interviews with 29 GPs explored their everyday work with patients with alcohol-related issues. We then undertook group interviews--two with GPs and one with a primary care team--where they discussed and challenged findings of the interviews. The GPs reported routinely discussing alcohol with patients with a range of alcohol-related problems. GPs believed that this work is important, but felt that until patients were willing to accept that their alcohol consumption was problematic they could achieve very little. They tentatively introduced alcohol as a potential problem, re-introduced the topic periodically, and then waited until the patient decided to change their behaviour. They were aware that they could identify and manage more patients. A lack of time and having to work with the multiple problems that patients brought to consultations were the main factors that stopped GPs managing more risky drinkers. Centrally, we compared the results of our study with [Thom, B., & Tellez, C. (1986). A difficult business-Detecting and managing alcohol-problems in general-practice. British Journal of Addiction, 81, 405-418] seminal study that was undertaken 20 years ago. We show how the intellectual, moral, emotional and practical difficulties that GPs currently face are quite similar to those faced by GPs from 20 years ago. As the definition of what could constitute abnormal alcohol consumption has expanded, so the range of consultations that they may have to negotiate these difficulties in has also expanded.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / diagnosis
  • England
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Referral and Consultation*