Identifying harmful drinking using a single screening question in a psychiatric consultation-liaison population

Psychosomatics. Jul-Aug 2011;52(4):362-6. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2011.01.041.


Background: Harmful drinking is common in medical inpatients, yet commonly missed due in part to time pressures. A screening question about past year heavy drinking recommended by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has been validated in primary care and emergency room settings. We tested the psychometric properties of a modified single screening question (SSQ) in hospitalized patients referred to a consultation-liaison service.

Methods: A psychiatry attending (n = 40), a psychiatry resident (n = 30) and a medical student (n = 30) administered the SSQ, followed by a self-report 10-item Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to a sample of 100 consultation-liaison patients who were able to give informed consent for participation.

Results: Using the AUDIT as a reference, the sensitivity and specificity of the SSQ to detect harmful drinking in this sample were .96 and .82, respectively. Gender differences in specificity were not found. The single question also had a strong correlation with dependence (r(b) = .457, p < .001), and harmful use (r(b) = .620, p < .001) subscales of the AUDIT.

Conclusion: The SSQ about past year heavy drinking can rapidly identify harmful drinking in alert nonpsychotic consultation-liaison patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychometrics
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Young Adult