Assessing Alcohol Use by Patients in Treatment

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Abstract

The monitoring of alcohol use by patients undergoing treatment is vital to ensure good clinical care, and to provide data on the effectiveness of therapy. However, many treatment programs do not have systematic procedures for the regular assessment of a patient’s alcohol consumption during treatment and follow-up. Part of the difficulty is due to skepticism about the validity of alcoholics’ self-reports, as well as resource constraints that limit the use of objective measures of alcohol use, such as tests of liver functioning. Although the notion that alcoholics deny the extent of their drinking is widely held, recent studies have found that various populations of alcohol abusers may provide fairly accurate information about their drinking and alcohol-related problems. An important instance where self-reports tend to underestimate drinking is when the patient has a positive blood alcohol level while undergoing the assessment.