|NIAAA Issues New Clinician’s Guide
for Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
(NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
has released a new guide for health care practitioners
to help them identify and care for patients with heavy
drinking and alcohol use disorders. Helping Patients
Who Drink Too Much: A Clinician’s Guide is now
available free online (www.niaaa.nih.gov)
and in print, with a pocket version included.
About 3 in 10 U.S. adults drink at levels that increase
their risk for physical, mental health, and social problems.
Of these heavy drinkers, about 1 in 4 currently has
alcohol abuse or dependence. Although relatively common,
these alcohol use disorders often go undetected in medical
and mental health care settings. When effective methods
are used for alcohol screening and brief interventions,
however, research shows they can promote significant,
lasting reductions in drinking levels and alcohol-related
The 2005 edition of the Guide provides a research-based
approach to alcohol screening and brief intervention
for both primary care and mental health clinicians.
It updates earlier NIAAA guidelines, which focused solely
on primary care providers and used a lengthier screening
In the new Guide, alcohol screening is simplified
to a single question about heavy drinking days. If a
patient drinks heavily (5 or more drinks in a day for
men or 4 or more for women), the Guide shows
how to assess for symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence.
Whether the patient has an alcohol use disorder or is
a heavy, at-risk drinker, the Guide offers
streamlined, step-by-step guidance for conducting brief
interventions and managing patient care.
“In updating this Guide, we wanted to make
it easier for clinicians to screen patients,” says NIAAA
Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. “Multi-step interviews can
be impractical in the real world. The single screening
question helps overcome a barrier that may have kept
many practitioners from identifying and helping people
who drink harmfully.”
The Guide’s target audience now includes mental
health clinicians in recognition that alcohol use disorders
are more common in mental health patients than in the
general population. “Often the only care these patients
receive is mental health care,” notes Mark Willenbring,
M.D., a psychiatrist and Director of NIAAA’s Division
of Treatment and Recovery Research. “Heavy drinking
can interfere with the response to mental health treatment.
Routine alcohol screening is important for these patients
The 2005 edition of the Guide provides new
and revised materials that support clinicians in conducting
alcohol screenings, assessments, and brief interventions.
- An optional written screening tool, provided in
both English and Spanish
- Patient education charts about U.S. adult drinking
patterns and alcohol content in different beverage
types and serving sizes
- A new section about prescribing medications for
- New forms for recording patient baseline and progress
- Resources for making referrals to treatment and
- A portable, pocket-sized version of the full Guide
Print copies of Helping Patients Who Drink Too
Much: A Clinician’s Guide, complete with the
pocket version, can be ordered through NIAAA at 301-443-3860
or online at www.niaaa.nih.gov.
The Guide may be downloaded from the NIAAA
website as well. For training, a PowerPoint slide
show on the Guide will be posted on the website
in the near future.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,
a component of the National Institutes of Health,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, conducts
and supports approximately 90 percent of the U.S.
research on the causes, consequences, prevention,
and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol
problems and disseminates research findings to general,
professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol
research information and publications are available
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The
Nation's Medical Research Agency — is comprised
of 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of
the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and
supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical
research, and investigates the causes, treatments,
and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more
information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.