THURSDAY, April 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Problem drinkers are more likely to reduce their alcohol consumption after receiving counseling from an emergency room physician, according to a new study. ER doctors can also deter heavy drinkers from driving while under the influence, the study found.
"The intervention, which lasts only seven minutes, was still affecting these patients' lives for the better 12 months later," said lead study author Dr. Gail D'Onofrio at the Yale University School of Medicine, in a journal news release. "This shows that sometimes what emergency physicians say has as great an impact on our patients as what we do."
The researchers identified 740 patients considered hazardous and harmful drinkers -- men who had more than 14 drinks a week (or more than four drinks at a time) and women who had more than seven drinks a week (or more than three at a time). Patients either received a brief negotiation interview with the aim of limiting alcohol consumption, received this interview with a follow-up phone call or received standard care alone.
The study, published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine, revealed that patients who received the interview reduced their average number of drinks from nearly 20 per week to 13 within six months. One year after their interview, these patients still drank less -- slightly more than 14 drinks per week.
Reduction in 28-day binge drinking episodes for the interview group dropped from about seven episodes to fewer than five within six months and slightly more than five episodes a year later. Follow-up phone calls had little benefit over the patients' initial interview with the ER physician.
The interviews also curbed drinking and driving among these patients. One year after the physician interviews, DUI rates dropped from 38 percent to 29 percent. Among the group that received both an interview and a phone call, rates dropped from 39 percent to 31 percent.
"We see the tragic effects of alcohol misuse in the emergency department every day," D'Onofrio said. "We treat acute injuries and illnesses routinely. Our study shows that we can also change drinking behavior in the future, ultimately improving the health of the public."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on binge drinking.