Alcohol abuse still a taboo for GPs

Doctors says reluctance of GPs to engage problem drinkers demands additional research to understand a “lack of desire for support” amongst excessive drinkers.

GPs are less likely to discuss alcohol use than other areas related to personal health: one possible reason for this could be doctor’s own drinking habits.
GPs are less likely to discuss alcohol use than other areas related to personal health: one possible reason for this could be doctor’s own drinking habits.

While 45% of General Practitioners initiate discussions with patients about eating, physical activity and weight, just 18% of GPs discuss smoking habits and only 10% bring up the theme of alcohol use.

This emerges from a study by senior general practitioner Mario Sammut published in the Malta Medical Journal, based on a questionnaire filled by 400 patients of 10 different doctors. International studies also point out that GPs are less likely to discuss alcohol use than other areas related to personal health.

One possible reason for this could be doctor's own drinking habits.

In fact, another study by Sammut published in 2006 showed that only 37% of Maltese GPs have declared that they do not drink alcohol. In this study, GPs admitted that they found it difficult to discuss behaviour they themselves are struggling with, with their patients.

Another reason could be a fear of negatively affecting the doctor-patient relationship.

The survey also shows that while 77% of smokers, and 60% of unhealthy eaters and those with abnormal weight thought they needed to improve unhealthy lifestyles, only 30% of excessive drinkers thought they needed to improve their lifestyle. Moreover, only 8% of excessive drinkers would like their GP's support.

The study concludes that the reluctance of GPs to engage problem drinkers may be overcome by the provision of appropriate training for doctors. But additional research is needed to understand the "lack of desire for support" amongst excessive drinkers.

The study showed that 25% of patients visited their GP three to four times a year, while 40% visit their GP more than five times a year.

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