More is not always better-comparison of three instruments measuring volume of drinking in a sample of young men and their association with consequences

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014 Sep;75(5):880-8. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2014.75.880.


Objective: In general population survey instruments that measure volume of drinking, additional questions and shorter reference periods yield higher volumes. Comparison studies have focused on volume but not on associations between volume and consequences.

Method: From a cohort study on substance use risk factors (Cohort Study on Substance Use Risk Factors [C-SURF]), baseline data were analyzed for 5,074 young (approximately 20-year-old) men who were drinkers in the past 12 months. Volume of drinking was measured by a generic quantity-frequency (QF) instrument, an extended QF (separately for weekends and weekdays) instrument with 12-months recall, and a retrospective past-week diary. Associations of consequences with and without attribution of alcohol as a cause, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), criteria for dependence, and DSM-5 alcohol use disorder in the past 12 months were analyzed.

Results: The generic QF measure resulted in lower volume compared with either the extended QF measure (more questions) or the retrospective diary (the most questions and the shortest recall period). For outcomes, however, the extended QF assessment performed the best and the diary the worst.

Conclusions: Higher volume yields are not always better regarding associations with outcomes. The extended QF instrument better captures the variability of drinking. The retrospective diary performs poorly for associations because of the mismatch with the recall period for past-12-months consequences and the potential for misclassification of past-week abstainers and heavy drinkers because of an uncommon past week. Diaries are not recommended for research investigating individual associations between exposure and outcomes in young populations if consequences are measured with a sufficiently long interval to capture rare consequences.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Beverages*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Young Adult