Alcohol habits are more rarely addressed than other health behavior topics in Swedish health care. This study examined whether differences between topics could be explained by their different associations with patient characteristics or by the differences in the prevalence of the disadvantageous health behavior, i.e., excessive alcohol use and smoking. The study moreover examined whether simply being asked questions about behavior, i.e., alcohol use or smoking, was associated with reported change.
The study was based on a cross-sectional postal survey (n = 4 238, response rate 56.5 percent) representative of the adult population in Stockholm County in 2003. Retrospective self-reports were used to assess health care visits during the past 12 months, the questions and advice received there, patients characteristics, health behavior, and the present stage of change. Logistic regression analysis was used to estimate the associations among the 68 percent who had visited health care.
Among the health care visitors, 23 percent reported being asked about their alcohol habits, and 3 percent reported receiving advice or/and support to modify their alcohol use--fewer than for smoking, physical exercise, or diet. When regression models adjusted for patient characteristics, the differences between health behaviors in the extent of questioning and advice remained. However, when the models also adjusted for smoking and alcohol consumption there was no difference between smoking and alcohol-related advice. In fact one-third of the present smokers and two-fifths of the persons dependent on alcohol reported having receiving advice the previous 12 months. Those who reported being asked questions or receiving advice more often reported a decreased alcohol use and similarly intended to cease smoking within 6 months. Questions about alcohol use were moreover related to a later stage of stage of change independently of advice among women but not among men.
While most patients are never addressed, many in the target groups seem to be reached anyway. Besides advice, already addressing alcohol habits appears to be associated with change. The results also indicate that gender possibly plays a role in the relationship between advice and the stage of change.