Discussing Alcohol Use with the GP

A General Practitioner (GP) is often the first point of contact for people struggling with alcohol related issues. These doctors must be trained to detect problematic drinking as well as have the confidence and skills to have open conversations with patients. 

Feedback from patients who have received support from their GP helps inform guidance to having these conversations.

The aim of this qualitative study was to analyse the feelings of patients with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) who have  experienced screenings conducted by their GPs.

Through interviews, the researchers were keen to gain an understanding of the following:

  • perceptions of the excessive consumption of alcohol and AUD;

  • feelings regarding the care pathway for AUD;

  • experience with screening or diagnosis by GPs; and,

  • expectations regarding early screening for AUD.

Twelve patients participated in the study.

Themes that emerged following analysis included:

  • people felt shame, misunderstood and guilt around their drinking habits.
  • discussions around alcohol consumption tended to happen following a 'triggering' event
  • participants felt that GPs were often scared to broach the subject and were not trained to deal with the specific issue
  • The importance of the GP in accepting care could be fundamental
  • If the GP discussed alcohol use in an appropriate way, there could be an opportunity to enhance patient awareness
  • Often, talking with a GP was felt like a relief and helped the participants be more open with their friends and families.

Overall, this research emphasises the critical role GPs often have in helping people access appropriate support and open up about their difficulties. Acceptance and kindness are essential as the patients often described feeling judged and stigmatised. This feedback should be used to guide interventions and training for GPs who are working with people with AUD.

Discussing alcohol use with the GP: a qualitative study Sandra Coste, Laetitia Gimenez, Aurélie Comes, Xavier Abdelnour, Julie Dupouy, Emile Escourrou BJGP Open 2020; 4 (2): bjgpopen20X101029. DOI: 10.3399/bjgpopen20X101029