Brief interventions reduce alcohol abuse and its effects

April 1, 2010

Americans see alcoholic drinks nearly every day-on TV, at parties and even on the family dinner table.

AMERICANS SEE ALCOHOLIC DRINKS nearly every day-on TV, at parties and even on the family dinner table. However, they rarely talk about its addictive dark side or the toll it can take on a person's health. While alcohol-related health problems are prevalent, expensive and sometimes difficult to identify, the good news is that one of the most effective management strategies for alcohol addiction is simple and inexpensive.

"Messages that come directly from a health plan aren't going to mean a lot to a problem drinker, so they aren't likely to have a great impact," says Robert A. Holtz, vice president of behavioral health services for Capital District Physicians' Health Plan (CDPHP). "But studies have shown that providers who have a 10-minute discussion about alcohol abuse can have a significant impact on consumption among their patients."

But it's not just reducing the social stigmas; legislation and mandates are also having an effect on the number of people receiving help for their alcohol problems, according to Holtz.

"I've seen an increase in the utilization of inpatient and outpatient services for alcoholics, largely due to an increase in drinking-and-driving arrests, a greater emphasis on alcohol in parole and probation departments, and various other legal efforts," he says. "So while there are definitely more people getting treatment for alcohol abuse, much of that treatment is mandated."

The impact of alcohol abuse is magnified when combined with other conditions such as depression, especially for older Americans.

Even those who are aware that alcohol abuse is a severe health and societal problem don't realize just how prevalent the problem is. There are nearly as many people with alcohol use disorders (17.6 million) as there are with diabetes (18.2 million)-a fact that isn't surprising given the connection between excessive drinking and Type 2 diabetes.