FPIN's Help Desk Answers
Screening Tools for Unhealthy Alcohol Use
Am Fam Physician. 2017 Dec 1;96(11):online.
What short screening tool is most accurate in detecting unhealthy alcohol use in the primary care setting?
A single-question alcohol use screen and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test–Consumption (AUDIT-C) can be used to detect unhealthy alcohol use and alcohol use disorder. Their performance is similar between sexes and across races. (Strength of Recommendation: B, based on two cross-sectional studies.)
A 2009 cross-sectional study evaluated the validity of a single-question alcohol screening tool (“How many times in the past year have you had five (men)/four (women) or more drinks in a day?”) compared with the AUDIT-C in detecting unhealthy alcohol use and current alcohol use disorder.1 A response of one or more times was considered positive. The AUDIT-C uses a zero- to four-point scale to inquire how often alcohol was consumed (never to more than four times per week), how many drinks were consumed per day (none to more than 10), and how often six or more drinks were consumed per day (never to almost daily) over the previous 30 days. A positive screen was four or more points for men and three or more for women. Participants (n = 286) were English speaking, older than 18 years, and selected from the waiting room of a primary care clinic. Unhealthy alcohol use was defined as more than 14 drinks per week for men or more than seven per week for women. Criteria for alcohol use disorder are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.2
Compared with the AUDIT-C, the single-question screen was more sensitive (82% vs. 74%) and slightly less specific (79% vs. 83%) for detecting unhealthy alcohol use.1 The AUDIT-C was as sensitive as (88%) and more specific than (72% vs. 67%) the single-question screen for detecting current alcohol use disorder. The positive and negative likelihood ratios (LR+ and LR–, respectively) of the single-question screen for unhealthy alcohol use (LR+ = 3.9;
1. Smith PC, Schmidt SM, Allensworth-Davies D, Saitz R. Primary care validation of a single-question alcohol screening test [published correction appears in J Gen Intern Med. 2010;25(4):375]. J Gen Intern Med. 2009;24(7):783–788.
2. American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed., text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
3. Frank D, DeBenedetti AF, Volk RJ, Williams EC, Kivlahan DR, Bradley KA. Effectiveness of the AUDIT-C as a screening test for alcohol misuse in three race/ethnic groups. J Gen Intern Med. 2008;23(6):781–787.
Help Desk Answers provides answers to questions submitted by practicing family physicians to the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN). Members of the network select questions based on their relevance to family medicine. Answers are drawn from an approved set of evidence-based resources and undergo peer review. The strength of recommendations and the level of evidence for individual studies are rated using criteria developed by the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group (http://www.cebm.net).
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A collection of FPIN's Help Desk Answers published in AFP is available at https://www.aafp.org/afp/hda.
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