GPs unlikely to believe patients’ alcohol consumption claims, survey shows

Nearly 200 GPs and 2,000 patients were surveyed regarding alcohol intake; results show GPs assume most patients are being economical with the truth

A survey conducted by Direct Line Life Insurance has shown that GPs are unlikely to believe patients when asking them about their lifestyle habits – particularly when it comes to drink.

191 GPs were surveyed; most admitted that they assume patients are lying about their alcohol consumption, and often mentally double the amount.

A sister survey of adults was also conducted, and found that most many respondents had no idea how much alcohol they consumed or what constitutes a ‘safe’ limit.

The GP survey showed that doctors overall believed only 40% of patients accurately represent how much alcohol they consume, and that young women are the most likely to underestimate the volume they have drunk.

GPs also believe 21% of patients are exhibiting symptoms of alcohol dependency. A worrying statistic, considering that the baby boomer generation is said to have been the heaviest drinking, with patients in their 70s showing severe signs of their earlier excess. The last thing doctors want is for later generations to follow.

Patients have their say

The patient survey found that many of the 2,000 respondents were not necessarily truthful when medical professionals ask about their drinking habits. Almost a third of them said that they didn’t know what the safe limit is (no more than 14 units per week), and one in five said they regularly drink more.

Some patients – as many as 14% – admitted that they fear being judged by their family doctor. One in ten were surprised by how much they were drinking when they calculated the amount.

According to The Telegraph, Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, said:

“This is not the first piece of research to indicate that we don’t always tell the truth about how much we drink. A lot of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, will be able to remember occasions when we’ve been economical with the truth when discussing with our doctor how much we eat, drink and exercise.

“It really highlights our strange relationship with alcohol. We don’t mind joking about heavy drinking episodes, but we clam up when asked to talk seriously about how much we drink and why.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said it’s always best to tell family doctors the truth.

“Over-consumption of alcohol can have a huge negative effect on our health and wellbeing, so being honest with your GP or other healthcare professional, as well as yourself, about how much you drink is an important first step in understanding how it could be impacting your life.

“GPs understand that it might sometimes be difficult for people to keep track of how much alcohol they drink, and that some patients might not want to disclose the amount because they’re embarrassed or worried about being judged by their doctor. But patients should be reassured that GPs are medical professionals, highly trained to have sensitive, non-judgemental conversations about anything that might be affecting their overall health and wellbeing,” she said.

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