Alcohol + anesthesia + surgery: not a good mix?

September 8, 2008

8.3% of Americans have a drinking disorder. Europeans drink even more, and alcohol is the third highest risk factor for death and disability in the general population.

The August 2008 edition of Anesthesiology reports that in a German preoperative clinic, 6.9% of patients were determined by an anesthesiologist to have an alcohol use disorder.  That would seem to be in keeping with the population studies cited above, but a 10-question computerized identification test identified more than twice as many patients – 18.1% – as problem drinkers. Those Berliners really know how to party!

This is actually not surprising. Computerized assessments of alcohol consumption have been used as far back as 1977.  Forty years of study have shown that computers do a better job than people in detecting these kinds of problems reliably and at low cost.  People are actually more likely to disclose problems of a personal nature, including mental health issues, to a computer than to your average medical interviewer.

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