Binge Drinking Grave Problem Ignored by American Doctors

binge drinkingBinge drinking is a grave problem ignored by American doctors. Many Americans binge drink but doctors don’t ask their patients about their alcohol consumption, and neither are patients warned about the dangers of binge drinking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report Tuesday on the statistics for binge drinking. The patient data involved 44 states and the District of Columbua. The data showed that one in six adults spoke with a medical professional about their drinking, which is a serious concern because an estimated 38 million Americans drink too much. Only one in four binge drinkers discuss their drinking habits with their doctors.

Binge drinking means over drinking on a single occasion. A woman is binge drinking when she consumes three or more alcoholic beverages in the span of a few hours, while for a man, four or more drinks equates to binge drinking. A drink is equivalent to five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said binge drinking is a problem that can be easily managed if doctors learn how to ask their patients about their drinking habits and set up alcohol screenings and counseling. Just as doctors screen patients for blood pressure, cholesterol, and eating habits, so should alcohol screening become part and parcel of the typical patient visit to a general practitioner.

“The bottom line is that drinking too much is a problem in American society,” Frieden says. “It shouldn’t get a free pass in screening by health providers.” The CDC director adds that binge drinking causes an estimated 88,000 deaths per year, and it cost the American economy an astounding $220 billion dollars in 2006. Judging by these numbers, it is clear that binge drinking is a grave problem ignored by American doctors and it is a problem America cannot afford to ignore.

Other than the number of deaths attributable to binge drinking and the deep cost to the U.S. economy, binge drinking causes a host of health problems, such as liver disease, heart disease, breast cancer, hypertension and for pregnant women, they can give birth to a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Binge drinking can also increase the rate of suicides, violence, depression, unplanned pregnancies, motor vehicle accidents and sexually transmitted diseases.

Screening for alcohol use and brief counseling have been proven to work, with a 25 percent effectiveness rate. Frieden says combating the problem of binge drinking is pretty straightforward:

“Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Health-care workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking.”

Frieden stressed that access to these services will be open to everyone under the Affordable Care Act so paying out of pocket should not be a concern for binge drinkers. Binge drinking is currently a grave problem ignored by American doctors but with the publication of these new statistics from the CDC, more health care professionals can learn how to ask their patients about their drinking habits and make it part of their routine patient care.

By Juana Poareo




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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