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Report: Alcohol Use Should Be a Doctor's-Office Discussion

GRAPHIC: A new study finds 38 million Americans drink too much, and despite the health risks, very few are honest with their doctor about their behavior. Infographic courtesty of CDC.
GRAPHIC: A new study finds 38 million Americans drink too much, and despite the health risks, very few are honest with their doctor about their behavior. Infographic courtesty of CDC.
January 14, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Many Illinoisans are pouring themselves a few too many on a regular basis, and despite the health risks, a new study from the CDC finds that they are not discussing their drinking habits with their doctors. The report found that at least 38 million Americans drink too much, but only one in six has ever actually talked about it with a medical professional.

According to Dr. Rahul Khare, an emergency physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, small conversations with patients can help people reduce their alcohol use.

"We have actually found that even by talking with people that binge drink we can actually decrease the alcohol intake the next time they start to drink, so it is very powerful and effective," he said.

The dangers associated with drinking too much include alcoholism, heart disease, breast cancer, sexually-transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within two to three hours.

Khare said physicians need to take the discussion with patients beyond just talking about alcohol use.

"Something needs to happen beyond asking the question. There has to be some education, and then some education about why it's bad and the health problems that can occur," the doctor said. "When you do this, you can sometimes change behavior, which is the goal."

Khare said some people are reluctant to talk about drinking, and added that it's important that patients feel comfortable being open with their doctors.

"If you don't feel like you can tell your doctor that, you know, go and get another doctor," he advised. "There are many out there. There are very good ones. So it' s very important that you feel you can be very honest with your doctor."

According to the report, drinking too much causes about 88,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and was responsible for about $224 billion in economic costs in 2006.

That CDC study is at 1.usa.gov/1gx7W2I.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL