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Doctor’s office last place Alcoholic should go for Diagnosis

Posted Sep 28 2008 5:46pm

94% of the time they miss the diagnosis of alcoholism

If you have decided you’re going to do something about your alcohol problem, talking to your doctor about treatment will probably do some good. As long as you are frank and honest about your drinking problem your primary physician will likely assist you with the help you need to attain sobriety. However, if you expect your doctor to confront you about your drinking problem based on an examination with no input from you, chances are your drinking problem will go undiagnosed. 

Most physicians are misdiagnosing alcoholism according to a study done at Columbia University. When surveyed, they found that 94% of those physicians missed the diagnosis of alcoholism. They would have treated the patient for high blood pressure or depression but they weren’t seeing the underlying disease. Treating symptoms does not help the addict overcome the problem of alcoholism.

The real tragedy is that alcoholism often goes undiagnosed, since physicians as a rule are not trained to understand or even treat addiction. 4 out of 5 doctors in the Columbia study actually thought that alcohol addiction in itself was untreatable! Considering that 15 to 20 percent of the people entering their doctor’s office have a problem with alcohol and maybe higher, this is a real problem.

One of the main reasons for these seemingly incongruous statistics is a lack of education by physicians in general when it comes to alcoholism and addiction treatment overall. It should also be pointed out that there is an uncomfortable stigma attached to alcoholism and problem drinking and many doctors are not comfortable asking the tough questions of their patient. Standard procedure is to ask how many alcoholic drinks does the patient consume a day or each week.

If more effort was put into diagnosing alcohol abuse in patients and treating the disease, eventually the more obvious symptoms would be alleviated like high blood pressure, obesity or weight loss [depending on the beverage of choice], mild depression, anemia, liver function etc.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. are suffering from some form of addiction and many of those are alcoholics. About 2 million are treated yearly so that means roughly 23 million people walking and driving around that are untreated. Of that 23 million, 97% don’t believe they need treatment or even have a problem. This makes diagnosis that much more important when they are seeing a physician.

It’s been made known in England that if a physician has even a ten or fifteen minute chat with their patient about a potential alcohol problem it can often lead to the patient abstaining for up to a year and a half later. In this time period the patient can nurture their abstinence with a 12 step program or some other form of support and sobriety may become a way of life for them. At the very least the topic has been broached and the patient is now aware of a potentially dangerous lifestyle that needs altering or some form of modification.

The conundrum is that those with a drinking problem may already know they need some form of treatment or medical intervention and desire help and the absurdity is at the same time they don’t want any assistance at all! It remains that the best conclusion is when a practicing alcoholic realizes their need for treatment and honestly discusses their alcohol problem with a knowledgeable and determined primary physician.

To set up an appointment with Michael Pearlman, M.D.,
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