Doctors urge new attitude to drink

Doctors have called for a multi-disciplinary approach to combating alcohol-related problems and said legislation alone is not enough.

The Irish College of General Practitioners said yesterday that it supports the Alcohol Forum’s work as part of Alcohol Awareness Week in highlighting the problems created by alcohol dependency in Ireland.

With Ireland now ranked fifth-highest in the EU for alcohol consumption and the problem linked to more than 60 medical conditions, GPs are providing screening services and “brief interventions” to more and more patients who attend with alcohol issues.

Brief interventions can take the form of a short period of counselling or passing on relevant information.

Margaret O’Riordan, medical director with the ICGP, said GPs have “significant experience” in dealing with alcohol-related problems. “To effectively treat alcohol dependency requires a multi-disciplinary approach addressing psychological, physical, social, and mental health issues. Following consultation with their GP, a range of services should be available to support both patient and doctor to deal with this issue.”

Patients with alcohol-related issues experience “ongoing difficulties and harm from alcohol consumption”, said Dr O’Riorcah. “Given the extent of problem alcohol use in Ireland, as is being highlighted in Alcohol Awareness Week this week, we are not confident that legislation alone will be effective in treating problem drinking without more dedicated alcohol treatment services.”

The ICGP said as many as 20% of patients have been shown to have unhealthy drinking patterns. “In the general practice setting internationally, screening, brief intervention and counselling for early problems related to alcohol have been shown to be effective in the reduction of harmful and hazardous drinking,” it said.

A ICGP survey found almost two thirds of GPs use “structured, brief intervention when talking to patients about their alcohol intake,” and 85% provide some form of counselling in relation to reducing alcohol consumption.

The ICGP plans to launch an e-learning module for GPs later this year.

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