Doctors paying more attention to excessive alcohol use among patients
- 4 or more drinks during a single occasion (women).
- 5 or more drinks during a single occasion (men).
- 8 or more drinks per week (men).
- 15 or more drinks per week (women).
Heavy drinking is a widespread problem in the U.S., doctors say
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
About 38 million adults in the U.S. are drinking too much alcohol, yet
most people don’t talk to their doctors about alcohol use.
Estimates show that only about one in six people broach the subject honestly with their doctors, according data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, Family Medicine Physician, Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Offices, said she speaks to patients regularly about alcohol use because it’s part of seeing the whole person.
“Many people feel that they can’t be honest about their alcohol use,” she said. “Health care providers are now more attuned to the serious physical and psychosocial detriments with over-alcohol-use to both our patients and their families, and are happy to be able to provide advice.”
For most adults, moderate alcohol use is not considered to be dangerous.
“For men, no more than two drinks per day, and for women, one drink per day, is considered to be reasonably safe,” Dietzgen said.
But excessive or heavy drinking can lead to serious consequences such as liver diseases, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, decreased memory and osteoporosis. Psychosocial risks include depression, anxiety and problems with interpersonal relationships, she said.
Drinking too much is defined as 15 or more drinks during an average week for men and eight or more drinks in an average week for women, according to the CDC, One drink is defined as five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 ½ ounces of 80-proof spirits or liquor.
Physicians who talk to patients about their alcohol use will look for negative consequences in a person’s life, such as legal problems or highly regrettable actions. Long-term, heavy use can lead to other health risks such as depression and anxiety, learning and memory problems, and other social problems like lost productivity, family problems and unemployment, according to the CDC.
Misperceptions and treatment
Binge drinking on the weekends — five or more drinks in two hours for men, and four or more drinks in two hours for women — is another problem, she said. The CDC reports that one in three adults is an excessive drinker, most of whom binge drink.
“Most people do not see overuse of alcohol as a problem,” she said, adding that it’s portrayed as being accepted socially and in popular culture.
Nine in 10 adults who drink excessively are not alcohol-dependent, according to a 2014 study by the CDC. But if you cannot easily limit the amount you drink, or if you crave alcohol or miss obligations at home or work, you could have alcohol use disorder, Dietzgen said.
There are many options for patients who seek treatment for excessive drinking. Medical providers, behavioral health providers, counselors, detox centers, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon are all readily available in most communities, she said.
“If your drinking pattern causes problems in your daily life, at work, home, relationships, you likely have alcohol use disorder, or what is more commonly known as alcoholism,” Dietzgen said. “Once you have lost control of your drinking and it is controlling you, there is a problem.”
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