Why doctors don’t ask about your drinking

“It is socially unacceptable to say you’re a heavy drinker, but it is actually socially acceptable to be a heavy drinker.” This interesting quote from a GP came out of a research project by Dr Michael Tam, GP at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Sydney. It may explain why GPs feel reluctant to discuss alcohol intake with their patients…

Dr Tam tried to find out why doctors are avoiding the topic. He found the following 3 barriers:

  • Many GPs didn’t want to be seen as moralising or didn’t want to label people with an alcohol problem
  • There was doubt about effective screening tools; what people say may not always reflect their true alcohol intake, so why bother asking
  • GPs were concerned that discussing the topic would affect the relationship with their patients

Dr Tan concluded that routine alcohol screening questionnaires by GPs may not be helpful to detect at-risk drinking.

What do you think needs to happen? Fill out the poll below or leave a comment.

Source: Detection of at-risk drinking – beliefs and attitudes of Australian GPs

6 thoughts on “Why doctors don’t ask about your drinking

  • Therein lies the dilemma of generalisations. I have seen people who seem quite proud of the fact they can swallow a carton of beer after footy and still feel well enough to drive home. In their society niche it is totally accepted to be a heavy drinker and you may be looked on a bit strange if you drink water! Such behaviour would not be accepted in my book club!


  • This is interesting. i always thought my Doctor knew I had a problem and after reading this, I’m sure he just avoided it. He did do routine blood testing though. In reality, it wouldn’t matter what approach a Doctor took on this matter. As a recovered alcoholic myself, I didn’t get sober till I was ready, until I was beaten into a helpless, hopeless state of mind and body. Im glad i found you blog.


      • If one is dealing with a real alcoholic i don’t think it would matter what approach a Doctor takes. I think the routine blood work for elevated enzymes may me the best approach. If the enzymes are elevated, maybe advise on the affects of alcohol abuse, but as I said if one is an alcoholic, It would not matter. I don’t know if you have ever read “The Doctors Opinion” in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but this my shed some light on what I am speaking of.


  • I’ve never felt uncomfortable asking about alcohol intake, patients understand that it is part of my role to enquire about potential health hazards. I ask about it often. I’m sure many people underestimate, either inadvertently or deliberately, but it always leads to a discussion on safe consumption and health promotion so my time is never wasted.


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