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November 13, 2018

New guidelines recommend all adults be screened by a physician for unhealthy alcohol use

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A new guideline suggests regular alcohol screenings and counseling by primary care providers for all adults.

Included in your annual checkup will now be a “drinking checkup,” according to U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued a statement on Tuesday. All adults 18 years and older, including pregnant women, are suggested to be screened for unhealthy alcohol use under this new policy.

This statement, which was published in JAMA, also suggests that for those patients who drink more than recommended limits, doctors should provide a brief counseling session to help them reduce their alcohol consumption.

For a little background, the USPSTF serves to make recommendations about the effectiveness of specific clinical preventive services for patients without obvious related signs or symptoms based off of an array of guidelines. 

According to the statement, the USPSTF is going by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism definition of “risky use” as exceeding the recommended limits of four drinks per day, or 14 drinks per week, for healthy adult men ages 21 to 64 years old, or three drinks per day or seven drinks per week for all adult women of any age and men 65 years or older.

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This check is especially pertinent because excessive alcohol use is one of the most common causes of premature mortality in the United States. The statement notes that between 2006 to 2010, an estimated 88, 000 alcohol-related deaths occurred every year in the United States, with the causes ranging from car crashes to liver disease. 

USPSTF has found adequate evidence supporting their plan of implementing a screening for unhealthy alcohol use followed by brief behavioral counseling interventions in adults. They have found that these interventions in the primary care setting can reduce unhealthy drinking behaviors — such as “heavy episodic drinking, high daily or weekly levels of alcohol consumption, and exceeding recommended drinking limits” — in adults, the policy states.

Currently, the USPSTF concludes that there’s no current concern for intervention regarding alcohol use in primary care settings for adolescents ages 12 to 17 years old, but have called for more research examining the benefits of interventions in this group.

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