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Doctors Often Miss Alcohol Screening Opportunities in Young Adults

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Doctors frequently fail to ask their young adult patients about excess alcohol use. The findings come from a new study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The survey included more than 4,000 adults ages 18 to 39. Two-thirds had seen a doctor in the past year. Of those whose drinking was considered excessive, only 49 percent said their doctor asked about their drinking, and only 14 percent were counseled about it.

According to NIAAA guidelines, men should drink no more than four drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks in a week.

Women should not have more than three drinks per day, or seven drinks per week. The study found 16 percent of young adults were nondrinkers, 24 percent drank at or below the recommended limits, 47 percent drank more than the recommended daily or weekly limits, and 13 percent exceeded both limits.

Previous research has shown that when health care providers ask patients about their alcohol use and counsel them to reduce risky drinking—known as screening and brief intervention—the result can be significant, lasting decreases in drinking levels and alcohol-related problems, according to an NIAAA news release.

“Physicians should routinely ask all adults about their drinking and offer advice about levels that pose health risk, particularly to young adults,” the researchers write in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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