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Br J Gen Pract. 1997 Nov;47(424):705-9.

The general practitioner, the drug misuser, and the alcohol misuser: major differences in general practitioner activity, therapeutic commitment, and 'shared care' proposals.

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  • 1National Addiction Centre, London.



The primary care setting has been regarded in government policy and the scientific literature as an ideal setting for the work needed to meet the Health of the Nation drug and alcohol targets. Although studies have pointed to the negative attitudes held by general practitioners (GPs) towards alcohol- and drug-misusing patients, there has been no direct comparison of the work and attitudes of the GP towards these patients.


To compare the work and attitudes of GPs towards alcohol- and drug-misusing patients.


All GPs in an outer London area (157 doctors) were surveyed, using an eight-page postal questionnaire, collecting clinical and attitudinal data alongside demographics and practice information. A response rate of 52% was achieved.


General practitioners reported working with only 3.5 patients drinking above recommended guidelines in the previous four working weeks, and even fewer drug-using patients (0.75). While they viewed the alcohol-misusing patients negatively, the drug misuser elicited substantially more negative attitudes. The primary care setting was seen as appropriate to work with the alcohol-misusing patient but not with drug users. Training and support from local services would encourage substantially more GPs to work with alcohol misusers but not with drug misusers.


Our findings indicate that there are some cautious grounds for optimism that GPs are willing to work with alcohol misusers; however, with regard to drug misusers, we find a GP workforce that is only minimally involved with this group and would not be greatly encouraged by the provision of additional training, support, or incentives. The Health of the Nation targets are not being met, and GPs are not detecting adequate numbers of the patients at whom these targets are aimed. Emphasis has been placed on the role of primary care, but the real achievements that can be made require detection of the less severe drinkers and injecting drug misusers.

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