Many people with alcoholism remain undetected and untreated for the disease because GPs fail to ask the right questions, according to an alcoholism expert who addressed GPs at today's AGM of family doctors in Kilkenny. The conference also unveiled the first-ever occupational health scheme for family doctors.

Programme Director Rolande Anderson told the AGM that patients can often present with vague complaints which can hide a deeper need to disclose their problem. International studies have shown that just asking about alcohol problems makes a significant difference, he said, but while doctors can ask about smoking, there is a cultural embarrassment about asking about drinking.

Enniscorthy GP Dr Andree Rochfort is to head up a new occupational health programme for family doctors. She told the conference that family doctors take poor care of their own health, they self diagnose and are not good at managing stress. A British study has shown that family doctors were three to five times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.