Guidelines for alcohol screening in adolescent trauma patients: a report from the Pediatric Trauma Society Guidelines Committee

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2013 Feb;74(2):671-82. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e31827d5f80.


Background: Alcohol misuse is an important source of preventable injuries in the adolescent population. While alcohol screening and brief interventions are required at American College of Surgeons-accredited trauma centers, there is no standard screening method. To develop guidelines for testing, we reviewed available evidence regarding adolescent alcohol screening after injury, focusing on the questions of which populations require screening, which screening tools are most effective, and at which time point screening should be performed.

Methods: A comprehensive PubMed search for articles related to alcoholism, trauma, and screening resulted in 1,013 article abstracts for review. Eighty-five full-length articles were considered for inclusion. Articles were excluded based on study type, location (non-US), year of publication, and nonapplicability to the study questions.

Results: Twenty-six articles met full inclusion criteria. Results support universal screening for alcohol misuse in the adolescent trauma population. Although adolescents 14 years and older are more likely to test positive for alcohol misuse, studies suggest screening may need to start at 12 years or younger. Both survey and biochemical screens can identify at-risk adolescents, with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test and the two-question survey based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for alcohol-use disorders being the most sensitive surveys available.

Conclusion: Injured adolescent trauma patients should be universally screened for alcohol misuse during their hospital visit. To maximize the number of at-risk adolescents targeted for interventions, screening should begin at minimum at 12 years. As no screen identifies all at-risk adolescents, a serial screening method using both biochemical tests and standardized questionnaires may increase screening efficacy.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Ethanol / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Mass Screening* / standards
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Ethanol