A new study led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has revealed an urgent need for improved treatment practices to help people with alcohol use disorder.
In any given year, an estimated one million Canadians are suffering from alcohol dependence, yet the vast majority of these individuals never receive professional help.
According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease that is characterized by preoccupation with alcohol and problems controlling the frequency or the amount of alcohol consumption. Although interventions for the disease can be very effective, they are rare in Canada and elsewhere in the world.
Study senior author Dr. Jürgen Rehm is a senior scientist at the CAMH Institute for Mental Health and Policy Research. He noted that routine screening should start in primary care and should be followed by accessible specialized care when required.
“Clinical interventions for alcohol use disorders need to start at the primary care level, if average consumption exceeds more than two drinks a day,” said Dr. Rehm. “General practitioners should regularly be asking their patients about alcohol intake, and initiate interventions if required.”
The lack of intervention in primary care is largely due to the stigma that surrounds uncontrollable alcohol use, which often causes patients to withhold information about their consumption level. Furthermore, general practitioners may fail to ask these patients about their alcohol use.
In the case that an alcohol use disorder is detected, safe and effective medications are available for use in primary health care.
Study co-author Markus Heilig is an international expert on the pharmacology of addictive disorders and director of the Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience at Linköping University.
“Approved medications for alcohol use disorders are no less effective than other widely used medical treatments,” said Heilig. “They are also safe, well tolerated. And they are cheap. Yet they are only prescribed to a small minority of patients. This needs to change.”
The study authors pointed out that, in order to ensure treatment is effective, waiting lists for specialized treatment should be minimal and primary care providers should be involved in patient aftercare.
The study is published in The Lancet.
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