Routine annual physical exam questions can reveal addiction to alcohol

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Clinking glasses

Sobering thoughts for Alcohol Awareness Month

Most adults drink alcohol. Consumption ranges from light to chronic – from a beer with dinner to downing enough whiskey to forget the day’s troubles and perhaps the entire evening, too. As a person’s consumption rises, so do the health risks, both medical and mental.

During all annual physicals, Beaumont family medicine doctor and addiction medicine specialist Peter Schoeps, D.O., talks to his patients about activities that might be harmful to their health. The conversation is standard for most family practice physicians and can help correct behaviors patients might not realize are a problem.

“Before the usual questions on drinking, I often ask patients if they have any bad habits they want to work on, such as smoking, drinking or carousing around. This usually gets a chuckle, especially if their spouse is the room. And, it starts the conversation,” Dr. Schoeps said.

He is backed up by recent advice from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force that says primary caregivers should screen all adults 18 years or older for unhealthy alcohol use as well as provide those engaged in risky or hazardous drinking with brief behavioral counseling interventions to reduce unhealthy alcohol use.

Dr. Schoeps urges people to be open and truthful about their alcohol intake during their medical checkup: “People come to me because they are interested in improving their health. Lying doesn’t support that.”

He empathizes with his patients to comfort and build trust with them. “I am not here to be judge and jury. At the point they’ve come to see me though, I need to offer a solution or a way out of their stressful, embarrassing and possibly life threatening circumstance,” he said.

Sometimes though, people do lie about this. Dr. Schoeps’ red flags include using his intuition and powers of observation that may lead him to a high index of suspicion that something is wrong and discovering time gaps, such as having no memory of family events.

Alcohol abuse leads to health problems. Over the years, Dr. Schoeps has treated many patients for conditions related to alcohol abuse. All are important and need to be treated, but these stand out as urgent:

Unsafe alcohol warning signs

Signs of unsafe alcohol use“If people have any of these warning signs, I urge them to talk with their primary care doctor, because the risks they’re taking are too high,” Dr. Schoeps said. “We’re here to help; it’s a team effort.”

  1. Men 21 to 64: drinking more than four drinks a day or 14 drinks a week
  2. Women and older men: drinking more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week
  3. Pregnant women: any drinking at all
  4. Binge drinking, five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours at least once a month
  5. Feeling like you need to drink
  6. Having problems at school, work or in relationships related to alcohol use
  7. Behaving dangerously, harmfully or violently while drinking

Dr. Schoeps considers alcohol abuse as a continuum, from early use in teenage years to daily drinking in adulthood, with various patterns in between. “It is a biopsychosocial hereditary disease. Like many chronic diseases – diabetes or heart disease – alcohol abuse needs to be treated. Counseling affects change. My patients want to change. We find a path to success together.”

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