Massachusetts Medical Society: Physicians Encouraged to Screen Patients for Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Physicians Encouraged to Screen Patients for Signs of Alcohol Abuse

The annual National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD) encourages physicians to screen patients with unidentified alcohol problems.

"These patients may be alcoholic, or they may be misusing or abusing alcohol," said Luis Sanchez, M.D., director of Physician Health Services, which provides consultation and support to physicians, residents, and medical students facing health concerns related to alcoholism, substance abuse, physical illness, or behavioral or mental health issues.

"Physicians should ask every new patient and existing patients on a regular basis about their use of alcohol and other substances," said Dr. Sanchez. "There are brief screening tests for PCPs that have proven to be very effective in helping patients understand where they stand with alcohol, which is the first step in preventing escalation of the problem and to getting treatment."

At the NASD 2003, 20.6 percent of patients screened in primary care settings screened positive for problem drinking. Physicians are also encouraged to incorporate screening forms and materials into their everyday practice to increase early intervention and recognition of at-risk drinking in their patients. Heavy drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, accidents, violence, suicides, birth defects and overall mortality.

The NASD is a free program that offers clinicians the chance to educate the public about alcohol's impact on health. This year, the NASD is offering five continuing education credits for participating physicians, nurses, psychologists, and social workers who conduct a screening event and complete a brief self-test based on the NASD educational materials.

The theme of this year's NASD program is "Alcohol and Your Health: Where Do You Draw the Line?" The NASD 2004 primary care kit includes the one-page NASD screening form, a validated screening tool that addresses the full range of alcohol use disorders, from at-risk drinking to dependence; a video; and educational materials for clinicians, including the newly released NIAAA/NIH guide Helping Patients with Alcohol Problems: A Health Practitioner's Guide.

NASD is a program of the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health, with funding provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physicians can register for this program at or by calling (800) 253-7658.

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