A minority of primary care residents appropriately screen or intervene with at-risk alcohol users, according to a study published February 10 online ahead of print in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. 

Kristy Barnes Le, MD, and colleagues conducted a survey of 210 resident physicians, finding that 17% asked patients about hazardous drinking at acute-care visits, which can often be scheduled as a result of binge drinking. More than half of the residents (60%) said they “usually” or “always” screen patients for alcohol misuse at initial clinic visits, but more than 80% reported using questions that are ineffective at identifying binge drinking.

“Binge drinking among American adults is four times more common than chronic alcohol dependence but physicians often fail to detect binge drinking, despite its prevalence,” Dr. Le said.

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“We know that alcohol screening and brief intervention detects and reduces unhealthy alcohol use, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that it be used in all primary care settings. Unfortunately, that’s not being done often enough.”