Unhealthy alcohol use is the third-leading preventable cause of death nationwide, and alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among youth. Research has shown that asking adult patients about alcohol use and advising them to cut back on risky drinking can have lasting effects. But is the same be true for adolescents?
To determine whether physicians routinely advised young people on alcohol use, scientists in Health Behavior Branch in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research studied a nationally representative sample of more than 2,500 students in 10th grade. The students were asked about their alcohol use and whether their doctor discussed drinking at their last medical exam.
Researchers reported that 34% of the students said that they had used alcohol in the past month. However, of the 82% who had seen a doctor in the past year, only 54% said they were asked about drinking, and 40% said they were advised about related harm. Of the students who reported past-month problem drinking (e.g., frequent alcohol use, binging or drunkenness), about 25% were advised to reduce or stop drinking.
One limitation of the study, the researchers noted, was that the data depended on students’ ability to remember having conversations with their physicians. Still, the results strongly suggest that physicians may be missing opportunities to discuss alcohol use and abuse with this at-risk age group (PMID: 23359580).