Objective: The performance of three brief screens, the CAGE, TWEAK and Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), was evaluated against a DSM-IV diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence in an adolescent sample.
Method: Adolescents (13-19 years old) who presented to an emergency department for treatment of an injury, and who tested negative for blood alcohol concentration at time of admission, were administered a structured diagnostic interview and modified versions of the CAGE, TWEAK and AUDIT.
Results: Of the 415 adolescents for whom complete data were available, 18% met criteria for a DSM-IV alcohol use disorder according to the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (version 2.3). Teens who reported alcohol use in the last year (n = 261, 58% male, 71% white) were included in analyses that compared the performance of the three screening instruments. Receiver Operating Characteristic analysis indicated that the AUDIT demonstrated the best performance across the range of its cut-scores, with optimal performance at a cut-score of 4. The TWEAK performed optimally at a cut-score of 2 and the CAGE at a cut-score of 1.
Conclusions: Routine alcohol screening among adolescents seen in a hospital setting is indicated. Two important directions for future research include the identification of adolescent-specific alcohol screening items, and the validation of an adolescent-specific definition of problem drinking that addresses limitations of DSM-IV alcohol diagnoses when applied to adolescents.