• Alcohol Screening;
  • Alcohol Drinking;
  • Primary Care

Abstract: Background: Primary care providers need practical methods for managing patients who screen positive for at-risk drinking. We evaluated whether scores on brief alcohol screening questionnaires and patient reports of prior alcohol treatment reflect the severity of recent problems due to drinking.

Methods: Veterans Affairs general medicine outpatients who screened positive for at-risk drinking were mailed questionnaires that included the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and a question about prior alcohol treatment or participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (“previously treated”). AUDIT questions 4 through 10 were used to measure past-year problems due to drinking (PYPD). Cross-sectional analyses compared the prevalence of PYPD and mean Past-Year AUDIT Symptom Scores (0–28 points) among at-risk drinkers with varying scores on the CAGE (0–4) and AUDIT-C (0–12) and varying treatment histories.

Results: Of 7861 male at-risk drinkers who completed questionnaires, 33.9% reported PYPD. AUDIT-C scores were more strongly associated with Past-Year AUDIT Symptom Scores than the CAGE (p < 0.0005). The prevalence of PYPD increased from 33% to 46% over the range of positive CAGE scores but from 29% to 77% over the range of positive AUDIT-C scores. Among subgroups of at-risk drinkers with the same screening scores, patients who reported prior treatment were more likely than never-treated at-risk drinkers to report PYPD and had higher mean Past-Year AUDIT Symptom Scores (p < 0.0005). We propose a simple method of risk-stratifying patients using AUDIT-C scores and alcohol treatment histories.

Conclusions: AUDIT-C scores combined with one question about prior alcohol treatment can help estimate the severity of PYPD among male Veterans Affairs outpatients.