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Americans are Drinking too Much but Most Doctors Aren't Doing Much to Help

Jan 08, 2014 03:13 PM EST
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Millions of Americans drink too much and doctors are not doing much to help, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the report, some 38 million adults living in the United States consume too much alcohol. Included in this category were those who engaged in binge drinking, high weekly use and anyone found to be pregnant or below 21 years and old consuming alcohol. The majority were not alcoholics, the researchers found.

"For every one person who has alcoholism, there are at least six who are problem drinkers," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters during a telephone press conference, according to USA Today.

The agency defines high weekly use as 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more drinks for women. Binge drinking for men refers to five or more drinks on any one occasion; for women, four or more drinks is classified as binge drinking.

In all, the CDC estimates that excessive drinking causes about 88,000 deaths in the United States every year and costs the economy an estimated $224 billion.

However, according to a 2011 survey of more than 166,000 adults aged 18 and older, only one in six adults have discussed their drinking habits with a health professional. This is despite the fact that alcohol screening and brief counseling can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent, CDC health officials said, noting that the Affordable Care Act requires new health insurance plans to cover this service without a co-payment.

Credit: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011; Volume 41.

The report compares screening and counseling for alcohol to screening for cholesterol or breast cancer, stating that, in the long run, it will improve overall health and save money.

"Drinking alcohol has a lot more risks than many people realize," Frieden said. "In the same way we screen patients for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, we should be screening for excess alcohol use and responding effectively."

Frieden added: "We are not saying no one should drink. Most people who drink do so without adverse health effects," Frieden said. "But many people who do drink drink too much at a time or too much overall ... The health system is not doing a good job of finding out about these problems."

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