Primary care doctors should screen adults, including pregnant women, for unhealthy alcohol use, according to updated recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Screenings and subsequent interventions for unhealthy alcohol use can provide moderate benefits for adults, says the USPSTF, a federal advisory panel of medical experts, in an updated version of a 2013 recommendation. Doctors can counsel heavy drinkers to help curb their alcohol use, and refer them to treatment if needed. Brief behavioral counseling interventions—often as little as one session lasting 30 minutes or less—have been shown to reduce unhealthy use. The updated recommendations were published in November 2018 in JAMA.
The USPSTF defines unhealthy alcohol use as a range of behaviors from risky use to alcohol use disorder (alcohol dependence or abuse). For all women, and for men ages 65 and older, "risky use" is defined by the National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as more than three drinks a day or seven a week; for men 21 to 64, it's defined as more than four drinks a day or 14 a week.
What you should do
To avoid health consequences from alcohol, we suggest consuming it moderately, if at all. That means no more than one drink a day for women, or two drinks a day for men. People over 65 should drink even less.
This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Alcohol's Benefits: New Questions.