Brief alcohol screening in a clinical psychiatric population: special attention needed

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2012 Jun;31(4):538-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00333.x. Epub 2011 Jul 5.


Introduction and aims: Abbreviated versions of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and single-item screeners show promising results but have not previously been investigated in a clinical psychiatric setting. The aim of the present study was to investigate the capacity of three brief screening methods to detect hazardous drinking in a psychiatric treatment-seeking population.

Design and methods: Data were collected from consecutive patients (n = 1811) visiting a general psychiatric clinic. The screening capacity of the heavy episodic drinking (HED) screener, AUDIT item # 3 (AUDIT-3) and the three consumption items of AUDIT (AUDIT-C) was compared to the result of the full 10-item AUDIT with cut-off points 6 for women and 8 for men.

Results: The HED screener and AUDIT-3 with recommended cut-offs captured low rates of hazardous drinkers when compared to the full AUDIT. Lowering the cut-offs created rates far above those of the full AUDIT. AUDIT-C with recommended cut-off limits categorised nearly the same rates of men as the full AUDIT but much higher rates of women. Raising the cut-off for women approached the detection rate of AUDIT-C closely to that of the full AUDIT.

Discussion and conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that the HED screener is not sensitive enough in the clinical psychiatric setting. When designing alcohol screening measures to be used all over health-care organisations, special attention should be paid to psychiatric patients. If a somewhat more extensive screening tool is used, the full AUDIT is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / complications
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires