An insurer’s employee assistance program has tested the effectiveness of a systematic approach to identifying individuals who misuse alcohol.

EAP managers at the behavioral health arm of Aetna Inc., Hartford, worked with researchers from George Washington University to study a program based on routine EAP intake telephone screening interviews.

The study involved 300 employees at a large company.

Researchers found that about 40% appeared to be at risk for suffering from alcohol-related problems, and that 52% of the individuals with a “positive prescreen” had moderate-risk to high-risk behaviors.

About 80% of the individuals offered follow-up discussions agreed to participate in later discussions about their EAP services and needs, including their alcohol use, the researchers report.

Controlling alcohol abuse is of interest to group health plan sponsors, because some reports show benefits claims costs, absence costs and “presenteeism costs” are about twice as high for employees with drinking problems as for other employees, Aetna says.

The study included any woman who drank more than an average of 1 drink per day and any man who drank more than an average of 2 drinks per day, even if those individuals did not appear to be dependent on alcohol.

Other studies may have missed individuals who are not dependent on alcohol but who use alcohol in ways that could affect their health and productivity, Aetna says.

Aetna plans to begin including more employers in the alcohol screening program starting in May.