Nearly a third of Americans consume more than the FDA-recommended two drinks a day

According to national surveys, nearly a third of Americans consume more than the FDA-recommended two drinks a day.

In the last two decades, treatment professionals have realized that reaching these potential alcohol abusers is important. The August issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter examines brief interventions for this large segment of the population.

Known as problem drinkers, this group probably accounts for most of the problems caused by alcohol, including family problems, accidents, illness, and injuries. They rarely think of themselves as alcoholics or seek standard treatment for alcoholism. However, recent studies suggest that a little advice and encouragement can help problem drinkers cut down or eliminate their drinking. An estimated 75% of alcohol abusers recover without professional treatment or 12-step groups.

The source of advice could be a physician, counselor, or lay person who is knowledgeable about alcohol. The helper can ask about alcohol consumption and compare it to the norm. Too often, people define “moderation” as the amount they themselves drink. The helper can provide a self-help manual, give a brief talk about the consequences of alcohol abuse, suggest choosing a goal and keeping records of drinking patterns, and make professional treatment referrals if necessary.

Intervention can begin by screening large numbers of people for alcohol problems. The August issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter provides the following widely used questionnaire entitled CAGE (Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener) that has been estimated to identify 60-70% of alcohol abusers. A person who answers “yes” to even one of these questions may have a problem that a closer examination will reveal.

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