Doctors and other health professionals are not doing enough to warn their patients about the dangers of binge drinking, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Patients report that health professionals have rarely asked them about their alcohol consumption. But at least 38 million U.S. adults drink too much.

Most are not alcoholics, but may binge drink or exceed the recommended number of drinks per week.

According to the CDC report, only one in six adults talk to their doctor or nurse about their drinking habits.

It’s also a problem in Canada.

"Doctors and health professionals feel uncomfortable without proper training to raise the subject. It's almost easier to talk about sex these days than alcohol when it comes to health," said Tim Stockwell, director of Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

If patients were counselled on a regular basis, it could reduce how much alcohol they consume on an occasion by 25 per cent.

Such counselling can help a binge drinker curb their alcohol consumption and improve their health.

Researchers define binge drinking as:

  • Five or more drinks consumed within 2 to 3 hours for men
  • Four or more drinks consumed within 2 to 3 hours for women
  • Any liquor consumption by pregnant women

To screen patients, health professionals could ask their patients in plain language about their drinking, provide them with options and close on good terms regardless of patient response.

"Alcohol causes more health and social problems than most people recognize," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.

Alcohol screening and brief counselling is recommended for all adults, including pregnant woman to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, heart disease, breast cancer and unintended pregnancies.

According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption is blamed for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and costs the economy an estimated $224 billion.

In Canada, there are as many as 10,000 alcohol-related deaths each year.

If 70 per cent of Canadian doctors did regular screenings, it would save the country $1.6 billion in health and crime costs, according to Stockwell.

With a report from CTV’s Vanessa Lee