The Validity of Self-Reported Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol Problems: A Literature Review


  • Lorraine Midanik Ph.D.

    1. Alcohol Research Group (formerly Social Research Group), Institutes of Medical Sciences, Institute of Epidemiology and Behavioral Medicine, 1816 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709
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The literature on the validity of self-reported alcohol consumption and alcohol problems was reviewed. Studies done in this area were analyzed by type of sample, by specific behaviour which was validated and by criterion chosen as the standard to which the behaviour would be compared. Despite the usual conclusion of validity studies that self-reports are basically valid, variation exists depending upon what is being validated and how its accuracy is measured. Recent reports of consumption are validated more easily than drinking patterns measured in drinking practices surveys (as evidenced by coverage rates of surveys to sales statistics ranging from 40-60%). In addition, collateral reports by significant others do not necessarily yield better information on consumption. In the area of alcohol problems, only a few, highly‘visible’problems can realistically be validated. Thus, the reporting of drinking driving arrests can be better validated than tremors or other physical manifestations. It is concluded that more emphasis should be placed on developing new ways to validate alcohol consumption and alcohol problems so that researchers can continue to refine their data collection techniques in order to maintain confidence in their findings.