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Doctors need to talk about alcohol, CDC urges

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Has your doctor ever asked you about your drinking habits? If so, you’re in the minority. Most doctors never ask about alcohol, even though it’s responsible for 88,000 American deaths each year. Government health officials would like such screening to become routine because evidence suggests it can actually help people cut back on how much they excessively drink by 25 percent.

“If doctors use preconceived notions of who may be at risk for alcohol abuse, they get it wrong,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a media briefing last week. He’d like to see physicians take five minutes during an office visit to ask patients about their drinking habits.

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Only 1 in 6 American adults say they’ve discussed alcohol consumption with their doctor, and only 1 in 4 binge drinkers have, according to a report released last Tuesday by the CDC, based on 2011 survey data. Binge drinking is defined as having 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week for a man or eight or more drinks per week for a woman.

The CDC estimates that at least 38 million American adults drink too much — and most are not alcoholics. Binge drinking, even when not a full-blown addiction, raises a person’s risk of liver problems, breast cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases.

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