Simplifying Alcohol Assessment: Two Questions to Identify Alcohol Use Disorders


  • This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01 AA11078). Additional support was provided by the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia through the Opal Lewis Fund for alcohol research and the Center for Family Medicine Science, which was supported by a grant from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Reprint requests: Daniel C. Vinson, MD, MSPH, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65212; Fax: 573-882-3184; E-mail:


Background: Previous work has validated a single question to screen for hazardous or harmful drinking, but identifying those patients who have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) among those who screen positive is still time consuming. We therefore sought to develop and validate a brief assessment instrument using DSM-IV criteria for use in primary care medical practice.

Methods: Four cross-sectional surveys of past-year drinkers. The developmental sample included patients presenting to emergency departments with an acute injury. The second sample, from the same study, was recruited by random-digit dialing. The third sample was recruited in 5 family medicine practices in Georgia. The fourth sample was the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Interviews with the first 3 samples used the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) used the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule.

Results: Two constructs with promising test characteristics were identified: recurrent drinking in hazardous situations and drinking more than intended. Among those who screened positive with the single question in the developmental sample (N=959), if either of the 2 items was positive, the sensitivity for current AUD was 95% and the specificity was 77%. In the second (N=494) and third (N=280) samples, the sensitivity was 94 and 95% and the specificity was 62 and 66%, respectively, among those with a positive screen. In the NESARC sample, including those with at least 1 occasion in the past year of drinking 5 or more drinks (N=7,890), the sensitivity and specificity were 77 and 86%, respectively.

Conclusions: The sensitivity and specificity of these 2 items across 4 samples suggest that they could be formulated into 2 questions, potentially providing busy primary care clinicians with an efficient, reasonably accurate assessment instrument to identify AUD among those patients who screen positive with the single screening question.