Background: Many states require screening of individuals arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol to determine recidivism risk and the need for treatment based on severity of alcohol problems. Several screening instruments use DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence to assess alcohol problems in this population, but whether they adequately measure alcohol problems in individuals with DUIs has not been examined. In addition, gender differences in DUI samples suggest that female offenders have more severe alcohol problems than male offenders. The current study examines differences in alcohol criteria functioning by DUI history and gender using an item response theory (IRT) approach.
Methods: Data from diagnostic interviews with 8,605 participants in the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, including 1,655 who ever reported a DUI arrest (20% women), were used to examine differences in alcohol criteria functioning between men and women with and without DUIs. The factor underlying item response was conceptualized as unidimensional, representing alcohol problem severity.
Results: Social/interpersonal problems, larger/longer, and inability/persistent desire to quit displayed greater discrimination of IRT-defined alcohol problem severity among individuals with DUIs than those without. Irrespective of DUI status, women had a higher threshold than men for time spent drinking or recovering. Women without DUIs had a higher threshold than similar men for social/interpersonal problems. Taken as a whole, the criteria yielded similar amounts of information in all groups.
Conclusions: DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence adequately detect alcohol problem severity in individuals with DUIs, and some are better at detecting severity in this particularly high-risk group than in individuals without DUIs. However, the criteria as a whole are equally effective in measuring alcohol problem severity among individuals with and without DUIs and may be used with confidence in screening DUI offenders.