Routine alcohol screening of adolescents in pediatric settings is recommended, and could be facilitated by a very brief empirically validated alcohol screen based on alcohol consumption. This study used national sample data to test the screening performance of 3 alcohol consumption items (ie, frequency of use in the past year, quantity per occasion, frequency of heavy episodic drinking) in identifying youth with alcohol-related problems.
Data were from youth aged 12 to 18 participating in the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2000 to 2007. The screening performance of 3 alcohol consumption items was tested, by age and gender, against 2 outcomes: any Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition alcohol use disorder symptom (“moderate”-risk outcome), and a diagnosis of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition alcohol dependence (“high”-risk outcome).
Prevalence of the 2 outcomes increased with age: any alcohol use disorder symptom ranged from 1.4% to 29.2%; alcohol dependence ranged from 0.2% to 5.3%. Frequency of drinking had higher sensitivity and specificity in identifying both outcomes, compared with quantity per occasion and heavy episodic drinking frequency. For both outcomes, results indicate the utility of similar cut points for drinking frequency for males and females at each age. Age-specific frequency cut points, however, are recommended for both moderate- and high-risk outcomes to maximize screening performance.
Drinking frequency provides an empirically supported brief screen to efficiently identify youth with alcohol-related problems.