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Better understanding of interventions "could reduce alcohol harm"

GPs and nurses can do more to increase delivery of Alcohol Identification and Brief Advice (IBA). This was the finding of research commissioned as part of the Alcohol Effects campaign that indicates some healthcare professionals may underestimate its potential impact.

A survey of healthcare professionals revealed that some GPs and nurses saw IBA solely as a diagnostic tool when, in fact, robust evidence shows that it serves as an intervention in its own right - reducing consumption to lower risk levels for one-in-eight higher risk drinkers.

Some healthcare professionals also viewed the tool principally as a way to identify dependent drinkers, rather than it being aimed at all drinkers who are regularly drinking more than the NHS advises.

Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians said: “IBAs really work, and are up there with some of the most effective interventions that are available to us in healthcare. Many healthcare workers don't realise that IBAs for harmful drinkers are even more effective than current interventions for smoking. Let's take every opportunity to reduce this preventable burden of health harm.”

The IBA involves using quick and simple tools to not only accurately identify patients' levels of risk in relation to their drinking, but help those drinking at increasing and higher risk levels to recognise the potential risk and cut down. It prompts drinkers to reconsider their behaviour and encourages them to reduce their consumption to lower risk levels.

Dr Mike Knapton, GP and associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: "Over 9 million people in England drink more than is good for them, but many don't even realise that the way they drink could put their health at risk.

"As we have seen with smoking, brief interventions, as part of a wider strategy, can have a significant impact on helping to raise awareness of the health risks associated with alcohol and in bringing about a change in behaviour. A short GP consultation is more than adequate to carry out identification and brief advice to identify those that are drinking at increasing and higher-risk levels and provide them with some simple advice for cutting down.

"Healthcare professionals' knowledge of the dangers that can be caused by regularly drinking too much alcohol is vital to this process, as is reinforcing the positive effects GPs and nurses can have on a patient's health by talking to them about their drinking habits."

Increasing and higher risk drinking can cause unseen damage and can play a role in more than 60 medical conditions, ranging from some cancers to liver disease and stroke. By delivering IBA, GPs and nurses can help patients understand how their drinking impacts their health, both in the short and long term.

A range of materials is available via the Alcohol Learning Centre to assist with the delivery of IBA. This includes a GP factsheet, z-cards, leaflets on how to structure advice with patients, AUDIT questionnaires and an updated version of the Your Drinking and You booklet.

Alcohol Learning Centre