Current issues in alcohol

August 2011

FocusCurrent issues in alcohol

Problem drinking

Detection and assessment in general practice

Volume 40, No.8, August 2011 Pages 570-574

Apo Demirkol

Paul Haber

Katherine Conigrave


Alcohol has long been an integral part of the social life of many Australians. However, alcohol is associated with significant harm to drinkers, and also to nondrinkers.


This article explores the role of the general practitioner in the detection and assessment of problem drinking.


Excessive alcohol use is a major public health problem and the majority of people who drink excessively go undetected. General practitioners are in a good position to detect excessive alcohol consumption; earlier intervention can help improve outcomes. AUDIT-C is an effective screening tool for the detection of problem drinking. National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines suggest that no more than two standard drinks on each occasion will keep lifetime risk of death from alcohol related disease or injury at a low level. Once an alcohol problem is detected it is important to assess for alcohol dependence, other substance use, motivation to change, psychiatric comorbidities and examination and investigation findings that may be associated with excessive alcohol use. A comprehensive assessment of the impact and risk of harm of the patient’s drinking to themselves and others is vital, and may require several consultations.

Alcohol is an integral part of the social life of many Australians. Almost half of the Australian population found regular alcohol use by adults acceptable and only one in 10 thought alcohol to be associated with a substance use problem.1 Per capita consumption of alcohol in Australia is high by world standards and Australia is ranked in the top 30 alcohol consuming nations.2 A recent study, which looked at the drinking consequences of more than 30 000 people from more than 40 countries, suggests that Australian women scored among the highest in the world with respect to negative consequences from drinking.3

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