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Could better alcohol screening during doctor visits reduce underage drinking?

Two years ago, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and American Academy of Pediatrics released a screening tool designed to help clinicians overcome time constraints and other common barriers to youth alcohol screening. But new research shows that many physicians still aren't discussing alcohol use with their teen patients, resulting in missed opportunities for screening for underage drinking.

In the study, researchers randomly surveyed 2,500 students with an average age of 16 years. Among the participants, 34 percent said they had consumed alcohol in the past month and 26 percent reported binge drinking. However, a significant portion of those who admitted to drinking were not questioned, or counseled, by a doctor, according to an National Institutes of Health release:

“While more than 80 percent of 10th graders said they had seen a doctor in the past year, just 54 percent of that group were asked about drinking, and 40 percent were advised about alcohol harms,” says lead author Ralph W. Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., director of NIAAA’s division of epidemiology and prevention research. He adds that, among students who had been seen by a doctor in the past year and who reported drinking in the past month, only 23 percent said they were advised to reduce or stop drinking. The findings are now online in the February issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers also reported that students who said that they had been asked about their drinking were more likely to be advised about alcohol. Nevertheless, among the 43 students who said that they were drunk six times or more in the past month and who said they had been asked about their drinking by a doctor, about 30 percent were not advised about drinking risks, and two-thirds were not advised to reduce or stop drinking.

The findings are notable in light of past research showing that just a two- or three-minute intervention during doctor visits can go a long way in combating underage drinking.

Previously: Personality-based approach can reduce teen drinking, Are some teens’ brains pre-wired for drug and alcohol experimentation?CDC binge-drinking study demonstrates cell phones’ value in research and National survey shows teen girls more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse
Photo by Capsun Poe

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