Could Alcohol Use Screenings Become More Common For Adults?

By Beth Leipholtz 11/15/18

One task force suggests that if an adult reports drinking more than recommended amounts, doctors should take steps to help them cut back.

woman nursing a glass of wine before an alcohol use screening

Alcohol use screenings while seeing a physician may become more common for all adults, due to a new recommendation from the United States Preventive Services Task Force. 

The recent recommendation, according to CNN, was accompanied by a statement Tuesday (Nov. 13) in the journal JAMA. The statement advises that if an adult reports drinking more than recommended amounts, doctors should take steps to help them cut back. 

Recommended amounts, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), are different for men and women and across age ranges. Men 21 to 64 years old should not surpass four drinks daily or 14 drinks weekly.

For women and men over 64, that changes to three drinks daily and seven drinks weekly. For women who are pregnant, no level of alcohol consumption is safe. 

The task force has made similar recommendations before, and this is simply the latest update to the version from 2013. Among the changes is removing the phrase “alcohol misuse” and replacing it with “unhealthy alcohol use.”

The task force has recommended since 1996 that doctors screen adult patients and provide counsel if need be. Prior to that, in 1989, the task force suggested that doctors should have their patients describe their alcohol use. 

However, in an editorial accompanying the recommendation, Boston University School of Public Health officials Angela Bazzi and Dr. Richard Saitz wrote that not enough doctors are doing so.

"Yet implementation of screening and brief intervention still remains quite low," the editorial read. "For example, in the United States, 1 in 6 patients reports having discussed alcohol with their physician; rates in Europe are similarly low."

The authors go on to state that addressing unhealthy drinking in adults could be difficult for various reasons.

“First, screening may be met with reluctance if unhealthy alcohol use is viewed as less ‘medical’ than other conditions,” they wrote. “The stigma surrounding heavy alcohol use and blame that may be placed on patients make this challenge difficult to address, possibly requiring a shift in thinking, additional training, and acceptance of broader, more contemporary views of disease and prevention.”

Difficulty could also be due to the brevity of doctor visits, as well as the normalization of drinking in today’s culture, Bazzi and Saitz wrote. 

The pair went on to note that the way alcohol is viewed in society must change in order to make forward progress.

“The societal context must change, as recommended by the World Health Organization, to limit the influence of the alcohol industry and make the message unequivocal that less use of a toxin and carcinogen (even at very low levels) is better for health,” the two concluded. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.