Alcohol use disorder is estimated to affect more than 15 million people in the U.S. each year, and 88,000 people died from excessive drinking according to the latest study. That is more than deaths from drug overdoses (64,000 in 2016). Despite how common and risky excessive drinking is for Americans, however, it is not often addressed or treated by doctors, according to the Washington Post.
Why Doctors Do Not Address Alcohol Abuse
Doctors know that many treatments are available for those who abuse alcohol, but they rarely address the problem when it surfaces in their practices. While it may seem like malpractice not to discuss excessive drinking and consider therapeutic options when doctors know patients are at risk, it is not as easy as it seems to deal with the issue during an office visit.
When patients admit they drink more than four drinks in one day or seven in a week (for women) or more than five per day or 14 per week (for men), many doctors still hesitate to follow up with those who admit to drinking heavily.
Patients may make it clear that they do not see their drinking as a problem, and doctors may not want to press them on what seems like a private matter. Many doctors themselves drink more than they should and do not want to feel hypocritical by telling patients they have a problem.
Furthermore, there is still a stigma surrounding alcohol abuse or “alcoholism” that makes many people reluctant to classify themselves that way, and doctors do not want to stigmatize their patients. It can also be difficult to tell who is actually addicted to alcohol and who simply drinks to excess on occasion; the line can be blurry and difficult to delineate.
Undertreatment of Alcohol Abuse Disorder
When doctors do address the problem of excessive drinking, they tend to undertreat it and not to offer some of the available options to patients that could help them with their abuse. A number of prescription drugs including Antabuse and Naltrexone may decrease cravings or cause unpleasant physical symptoms when patients drink alcohol. Some seizure medications have also shown promise for treating alcohol abuse in recent clinical studies and may be used in the near future to help decrease cravings for alcohol in those who have abused it.
While talk therapy and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are traditional methods of treatment for excessive drinking, these prescription drugs may be another arrow in the alcohol abuse quiver that can improve outcomes.
Alcohol rehab programs like Colorado’s Recovery Village at Palmer Lake use a combination of therapy and effective medications to help people stop drinking excessively and live a healthier life. Learn about admissions to find out more about alcohol rehab at Recovery Village at Palmer Lake.