If Alcohol is a Problem, Your Doctor Can Help

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

After a lengthy review of past studies, researchers have found that both doctors and nurses can help people who have a drinking problem. A short “intervention” by a healthcare professional can enable heavy drinkers to cut down on alcohol.

This suggests that people who might want help don’t need to turn to groups such as AA right off the bat. They can book an appointment at the doctor’s office. This is important, because it is far less of a dramatic move then checking into alcohol abuse groups.

In the study, it turned out that about one in five patients were drinking enough that it was negatively affecting their health. The data was from 21 studies that totaled nearly 7,300 patients who went to the clinic. None went for alcohol treatment; instead other complaints.

Those who did drink too much were put into two groups. One received no intervention. The other received brief alcohol interventions — five to 15 minutes with a doctor, a little longer with a nurse. These short sessions, basically just listening to advice, had a significant impact.

On average, the people (about 42 years old) drank more than 30 standard drinks a week. That equates to 320 g of alcohol. With the help of these short talks with a doctor or nurse, that group reduced their intake by 41 g a week. That is about five fewer drinks. This was a pretty clear result across the board, direct evidence that these professional interventions bear some fruit.

The strategy works best for men, who were able to reduce alcohol for the week by an average of almost 60 g. For women, the benefit isn’t as clear because there simply hasn’t been enough studies. But it’s reasonable to assume these interventions work for both sexes. So not only can people turn to their own doctor for a bit of help with alcohol, doctors themselves can take time to talk about patients who seem to be drinking too much.

This is a good place for this to happen: a doctor’s office, where opinions are professional and important. And note that “alcoholism” is one thing, and “alcohol abuse” another. The latter means a person drinks to excess causing health problems, but isn’t addicted to booze. Either case can be helped with intervention.

According to U.S. health officials, nearly 18 million Americans abuse alcohol, and 100,000 die every year from causes related to drinking.