Background: The three consumption questions from the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C) are increasingly used as a screener for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and risk drinking.
Methods: In a representative sample of US adults 18 years of age and older, AUDIT-C scores (derived from consumption questions embedded in a large national survey) were used to estimate sensitivity, specificity, and areas under receiver operator characteristic curves (AUROCs) for alcohol dependence, any AUD, and risk drinking. AUDs were defined according to DSM-IV criteria. For men, risk drinking was defined as consuming >14 drinks per week or >4 drinks in a single day at least once a month; for women, the weekly and daily limits were >7 drinks and >3 drinks, respectively. The derived AUDIT-C was evaluated among past-year drinkers (n = 26,946), within the total population (n = 43,093), in groups defined by age, sex, and race/ethnicity, and among pregnant women, persons attending an emergency room, and college students.
Results: For past-year drinkers, the AUROCs for the derived AUDIT-C were 0.887 for alcohol dependence, 0.860 for any AUD, and 0.966 for risk drinking. Scores were higher in the total population, 0.931, 0.917, and 0.981, respectively. The derived AUDIT-C performed slightly better in screening for dependence among women than men. Screening for risk drinking was better among men, probably because the third AUDIT-C question directly mirrors one of the definitions of risk drinking for men but not for women. Performance in pregnant women, past-year emergency room patients, and college students was on a par with performance in the general population.
Conclusions: The derived AUDIT-C performs well in screening for AUDs and risk drinking. The use of variable cut points for men and women improves its sensitivity and specificity. Validation in a realistic screening situation, in which the AUDIT-C questions are asked as stand-alone and not embedded items, is a critical future step.