At least 38 million U.S. adults drink too much, though most are not alcoholics. Yet, only one in six adults and one in four binge drinkers say a health professional has ever asked about their alcohol use.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in 2-3 hours for women and five or more drinks for men. One drink is five ounces of wine, 12 ounced of beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Talking about such behaviour is considered an effective means of helping people to drink less, the CDC says. Excessive drinking causes about 88,000 deaths a year in the United States and about $224 billion in ecnomic costs, according to 2006 data. There also are links to other health and social problems.
"Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize," said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, in a statement. "Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Health care workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking."
Screening includes asking a set of questions to determine how much a person drinks and related problems. Health professionals can then counsel them on the health dangers and refer them to treatment.
The new federal Affordable Care Act directs insurers to pay for screening and brief counseling, which can result in a 25 percent reduction in alcohol consumption per occasion.
For more information about health effects from alcohol, go to
For more information about the public health effects of alcohol, go to the CDC's alcohol information page. And the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has developed materials for health care professionals on screenings and interventions.