Aims: This study examined the validity of two methods of classifying binge drinkers.
Methods: Adult drinkers (n = 166) completed the Alcohol Use Questionnaire (AUQ) and a Timeline Followback (TLFB) interview to characterize drinking during the past 28 days. Using Townshend and Duka's (2005) recommendations, answers on three AUQ items (average drinks per hour, number of times drunk within the prior 6 months and percentage of times drunk when drinking) were used to derive a binge score that was then used to classify drinkers as Binge, Non-Binge and Unclassifiable. Two methods for calculating binge scores were compared: (a) Participant-derived, using participants' answers on the 3 AUQ items; and (b) Staff-derived, staff used TLFB interview information to answer the 3 AUQ items. Additionally, Participant- and Staff-derived classifications were used to predict future drinking behaviors assessed by a second TLFB interview.
Results: Participant- and Staff-derived binge scores had a low concordance rate. Staff-derived classifications were better than Participant-derived classifications at predicting future binge drinking behavior and identifying group differences in drinking behavior reported during the second TLFB interview (average drinks per hour, number of times drunk within the prior 6 months, and percentage of times drunk when drinking).
Conclusions: Classifying drinkers using staff-guided TLFB interview methods instead of self-reported participant generalizations of typical drinking habits better relates to real-world drinking. Classification schemes that rely on dichotomous categorization of drinkers (Binge vs. Non-Binge) may be missing individuals who engage in harmful patterns of drinking. A continuous scale or index characterizing problematic drinking may be more useful.
© The Author 2015. Medical Council on Alcohol and Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.