Alcohol misuse is common. More than 8% of the US population experience alcohol abuse or dependence and an additional 30% drink at risky levels. Brief counseling about alcohol use from primary care providers can decrease drinking and has been designated the third highest priority in the US for preventing adult health problems.
Wherever drinking is a problem with Veterans, the VA is looking for solutions.
Alcohol screening followed by brief alcohol counseling has been very effective in helping Veterans with existing and potential drinking problems and is a national prevention priority for the VA.
One of the tools used by the VA is a three-question alcohol screen called the AUDIT-C that can help identify Veterans who are drinking at levels that may be hazardous or have active alcohol use disorders, including alcohol abuse or dependence.
The AUDIT-C asks questions like “How often did you have a drink containing alcohol in the past year?” and “How many drinks did you have on a typical day when you were drinking in the past year?”
Positive screening serves as a very valuable early warning sign that can identify potential drinking problems before they get worse.
Most patients who screen positive for alcohol misuse do not have alcohol dependence. Since the early 1980s, there has been increasing recognition that most individuals who experience alcohol misuse are not alcohol dependent. Dr. Daniel Kivlahan is the Director of the Center of Excellence in Substance Abuse Treatment and Education for the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.
In describing brief alcohol counseling, he says, “Brief alcohol counseling is a non-judging patient-centered intervention that can occur in less than 5 minutes and involves the primary care provider sharing their concern for the health of the Veteran and offering medically appropriate advice to stop drinking or drink within recommended limits.
“The primary care provider also offers specific feedback regarding health risks from alcohol that may be related to the Veteran’s other health conditions. The provider also offers to arrange additional help if needed to support changes and to check on progress at the next visit.”
Numerous studies have concluded that brief alcohol counseling decreases drinking in primary care patients with alcohol misuse or encourages involvement with other treatment support for those with more serious problems.
Dr. Kivlahan notes that alcohol is used by most Veterans and keeping it among the list of regular health topics is an important part of quality care to promote your health and well being.
Check-ups allow you and your provider to notice any problems before they become serious. My HealtheVet now offers The Drinker’s Check-up, an anonymous, self-guided online tool that allows you to develop a better understanding of your drinking, including any risks that it might pose to your health.