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Doctors Must Screen Patients for Alcohol Abuse, Says U.S. Preventive Task Force

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A harmless 5-ounce glass of wine contains 120 calories. Tony Gentile/Reuters

All clinicians providing primary healthcare must screen their patients for alcohol misuse and provide brief counseling sessions to those who engage in heavy or binge drinking, says United States Preventive Task Force (USPTF) in a new recommendation statement issued on Monday.

The agency says that alcohol misuse is associated with "85,000 deaths per year" and is the "third-leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S."

The USPTF released a summary of past research along with a draft recommendation. According to the research, about 30 percent of all people living in the U.S. drink more alcohol than recommended and engage in "risky drinking." Men are recommended to limit their alcohol intake to less than four standard drinks per day while women must try not to exceed three drinks a day.

Evidence from previous research suggests that brief counseling sessions of about 5 to 10 minutes can lower the risk of people becoming full-blown alcoholics later. The present study review along with a recommendation draft from the USPTF was based on 23 clinical research trials of which 11 were done in the U.S. The research review was conducted by Dr. Daniel Jonas and colleagues.

"The really good interventions incorporate self-help materials, they incorporate an action plan made by the doctor and the patient - they're not just a prescription," said Dr. Daniel Jonas of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as reported by Reuters. Jonas led the research review but is not part of the USPTF.

Jonas and his team found that interventions from primary healthcare providers could lower alcohol consumption by 3.6 drinks, on average, when compared to no intervention while binge drinking and risky drinking was reduced by 12 and 11 percentage points, respectively, Reuters reports.

Primary healthcare workers will need to add 7.4 additional working hours if they have to follow all the guidelines of USPTF, says a study from Duke University.

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