Single Question That Determines If Drugs or Alcohol May Be A Problem In One’s Life

addictionResearchers at Boston University have found that one key question may gauge the severity of unhealthy drug and alcohol use as well or better than many of the lengthy questionnaires used by addiction specialist and primary care physicians for screening.  As a primary care physician and an addiction specialist, I have found that long questionnaires are a barrier and most are not used at all.  The single question not only identified those with alcohol dependence 88% of the time and those with drug dependence 97% of the time, but it also identified the severity of the problem.  So what is this key question?

For alcohol use, the participants were asked how many times in the past year they had consumed five or more drinks in a day (for men), and four or more (for women). For other substance use, they were asked, “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?”

This tool was used in a primary care physician setting, and thus should be implemented into the routine care of all adolescents and adults as a screening tool to identify those who we can offer services for drug or alcohol dependence or addiction.

If you or a loved one has a potential problem or challenge controlling their alcohol or drug use, I highly recommend you encourage them to find help.  Often the family may be ready for change long before the drug or alcohol dependent person is willing to admit they have a problem.  If you are a parent, then you need to set very clear boundaries.  Those with drug or alcohol dependence should not be supported with access to a car, nor should they be given money that they can then use to purchase more of the drugs or alcohol.  Regardless of age, sometimes an intervention is needed.  This might be accomplished by a family and friends meeting where all those who love and support the individual gather and share their concerns.  This process may require a professional, and should always include options for treatment or change.

Treating addiction saves lives.  It is not always a linear process from identifying the illness to being drug and alcohol free.  It’s more of a journey, with relapses more common than not.  The earlier in the disease process the addict or alcoholic (or dependent person) gets help and learns about the disease, the better their chances are for recovery.  This disease is chronic and progressive, and the bitter end is often institutions, prisons, or death.

For the family members of the dependent person:  love them enough not to enable them.  Be willing to take a tough stand.  It often means being willing to kick them out of the home (with treatment options if you can afford them). That being said, each case is unique.  Get professional help.  Some individuals are so far gone or so incapable intellectually and emotionally to survive on their own, that to kick them out would be a death sentence.  If you suspect that may be the case, then definitely get professional help so the decision of what to do is not yours alone.

You can read the study from Boston University here…

Dr. Paul


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