GPs reluctant to screen patients for at-risk drinking

The study of four groups of Sydney GPs found that three in 10 adults who see a GP are classified as at-risk drinkers. But the lead researcher, University of NSW public health lecturer Dr Michael Tam, said that only one in 10 patients was detected as being at risk.

The study identified four key complaints from GPs when explaining their reluctance to use existing alcohol screening tools such as the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and its shorter version, the AUDIT-C: social and cultural attitudes to drinking; the importance of doctor-patient relationships; the difficulty of alcohol screening in general practice; and the ineffectiveness of existing screening tools.

GPs were unwilling to screen because of “the sense that at-risk drinking is not only normal but also desirable”, Dr Tam told the conference.

GPs were also careful to “avoid conflict” when discussing alcohol use with patients, he said.