Alcohol Problems Often Missed by Doctors if Patients Not Intoxicated

Doctors often miss alcohol problems in their patients who are not intoxicated at the time of their visit, a new study finds.

The researchers analyzed studies that included a total of 20,000 patients assessed for alcohol problems by medical staff.  They found general practitioners identified 40 percent of problem drinkers, hospital physicians recognized 50 percent, and mental health specialists identified 55 percent, Science Daily reports.

“This study highlights that clinical identification of alcohol problems is challenging in busy clinical environments,” lead researcher Dr. Alex J. Mitchell of the University of Leicester in Great Britain, said in a news release. “When clinicians try and spot alcohol problems they often miss patients who have serious alcohol problems but who are not currently intoxicated.”

He noted that doctors are not always sure what questions to ask patients, or what screening tests to use. He added that in general, patients with alcohol problems admitted to them when asked.

The study appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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    August 20, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    This really hits home with our family. My dad,who’s in his late 70’s and lives alone, had a bad drug reaction which caused numerous falls. He’s much better now that he’s not mixing his meds. with alcohol. Early on in the process of helping dad, the doctor was very causual about asking my dad if he drank. My dad said that he drank just a little bit each day, just one drink of his favorite bloody mary. The doctor said as long as it’s not more than a drink that dad should be fine. I said, “Well, dad, how big is your drink?” Dad went on to explain (using hand motions to indicate the size)that his drink is at least 4oz of vodka with his clamato juice. The doctor was shocked and told my dad that that’s too much to be drinking with his meds. And the doctor admitted that next time maybe he needs to ask what his patient’s are actually meaning when they say their only having a single drink…This article was very enlightening. Thanks.

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    August 5, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    I find it interesting that there is no mention of addiction rates within the medical profession. Maybe physicians have difficulty in identifying alcoholic behavior because they too are alcoholics. There could be a link.

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