Young adults at risk for excess alcohol consumption are often not asked or counseled about drinking alcohol

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Feb;27(2):179-84. doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1851-1.


Background: Excessive alcohol consumption is most widespread among young adults. Practice guidelines recommend screening and physician advice, which could help address this common cause of injury and premature death.

Objective: To assess the proportion of persons ages 18-39 who, in the past year, saw a physician and were asked about their drinking and advised what drinking levels pose health risk, and whether this differed by age or whether respondents exceeded low-risk drinking guidelines [daily (>4 drinks for men/>3 for women) or weekly (>14 for men/>7 for women)].

Design: Survey of young adults selected from a national internet panel established using random digit dial telephone techniques.

Participants: Adults age 18-39 who ever drank alcohol, n =3,409 from the internet panel and n=612 non-panel telephone respondents.

Main measures: Respondents were asked whether they saw a doctor in the past year; those who did see a doctor were asked whether a doctor asked about their drinking, advised about safe drinking levels, or counseled to reduce drinking.

Key results: Of respondents, 67% saw a physician in the past year, but only 14% of those exceeding guidelines were asked and advised about risky drinking patterns. Persons 18-25 were the most likely to exceed guidelines (68% vs. 56%, p<0.001) but were least often asked about drinking (34% vs. 54%, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Despite practice guidelines, few young adults are asked and advised by physicians about excessive alcohol consumption. Physicians should routinely ask all adults about their drinking and offer advice about levels that pose health risk, particularly to young adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Counseling / methods
  • Counseling / standards*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / methods
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Male
  • Physician's Role*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult