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Take a few minutes to talk to your patients about their alcohol use
e-Reports, March 10, 2014
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A message from State Health Commissioner William C. VanNess II, M.D. Untitled document

At least 38 million American adults drink too much, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of these individuals are not alcoholics and their drinking may not seem like a problem.

 Dr. VanNess
William VanNess, M.D.,
State Health Commissioner

As health care providers for the good people of Indiana, you have many responsibilities. However I ask you to take a few extra minutes during each office visit to discuss alcohol use with patients and bring this issue out of the shadows. A simple conversation can spark a significant change and potentially save a life.

Unfortunately, overuse of alcohol is an all too common occurrence, rarely discussed between health care providers and patients, that can contribute to serious health issues. Those include heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, motor-vehicle crashes and violence. It also opens the door to alcoholism, a disease that brings unbearable heartache to many Hoosier families.

Last year, 2,124 traumatic injuries occurred related to alcohol use, according to the Indiana State Department of Health Trauma Registry. That’s more than 2,000 traumatic injuries that could have been prevented. And from 2007 to 2011, the year for which the most recent data are available, Hoosier deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis steadily increased, from 490 deaths in 2007 to 679 deaths in 2011.

The good news is that by talking with patients about their alcohol use, we can identify those whose alcohol use puts them or others at risk, and reduce the amount of alcohol a person drinks on a single occasion by 25 percent. Talking with patients about their drinking is the first step of screening and brief counseling that involves:

  • Using a set of questions to screen all patients for how much and how often they drink
  • Counseling patients about the health dangers of drinking too much, including women who are (or might be) pregnant
  • Referring only those few patients with alcohol dependence for specialized treatment

The January Vital Signs report from the CDC brings this issue to light by advising providers how to screen patients and then counsel them on reducing alcohol use. Learn more by visiting the CDC website.

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