Performance of self-reported measures of alcohol use and of harmful drinking patterns against ethyl glucuronide hair testing among young Swiss men

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 23;15(12):e0244336. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244336. eCollection 2020.


Background: There is a need for empirical studies assessing the psychometric properties of self-reported alcohol use as measures of excessive chronic drinking (ECD) compared to those of objective measures, such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG).

Objectives: To test the quality of self-reported measures of alcohol use and of risky single-occasion drinking (RSOD) to detect ECD assessed by EtG.

Methods: A total of 227 samples of hair from young Swiss men were used for the determination of EtG. Self-reported measures of alcohol use (previous twelve-month and previous-week alcohol use) and RSOD were assessed. Using EtG (<30 pg/mg) as the gold standard of ECD assessment, the sensitivity and specificity were computed, and the AUROC were compared for alcohol use measures and RSOD. Logistic regressions were used to test the contribution of RSOD to the understanding of ECD after controlling for alcohol use.

Results: A total of 23.3% of participants presented with ECD. Previous twelve-month alcohol use with a cut-off of >15 drinks per week (sensitivity = 75.5%, specificity = 78.7%) and weekly RSOD (sensitivity = 75.5%, specificity = 70.1%) yielded acceptable psychometric properties. No cut-off for previous-week alcohol use gave acceptable results. In the multivariate logistic regression, after controlling for the previous twelve months of alcohol use, RSOD was still significantly associated with EtG (p = .016).

Conclusion: Self-reported measures of the previous twelve months of alcohol use and RSOD were acceptable measures of ECD for population-based screening. Self-reported RSOD appeared to be an interesting screening measure, in addition to the previous twelve months of alcohol use, to understand ECD among young people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Binge Drinking / diagnosis
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Glucuronates / analysis*
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Psychometrics
  • Self Report / standards*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Switzerland
  • Young Adult


  • Glucuronates
  • ethyl glucuronide

Grant support

Grant awarded to SB and KI: Swiss National Science Foundation, no. 10001C_173418/1 URL: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.