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Asking This One Question Can Identify Problem Drinking

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New research shows alcohol use disorders among young people in rural primary care settings can be identified by asking one single question about their frequency of drinking. 

Researchers screened more than 1,000 people age 12 to 20 at six rural primary care clinics, asking them to enter information about past-year drinking and alcohol-related symptoms.

Then they tested the screening performance of the three alcohol consumption items (i.e., frequency of use in the past year, quantity per occasion and frequency of heavy episodic drinking) by age and gender, against two outcomes: any Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition alcohol use disorder symptom and a diagnosis of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition alcohol dependence.

The researchers found that a single question about frequency of drinking — "Think about the past 12 months. We want to know how many days you’ve had a drink of an alcoholic beverage in the past 12 months.” — accurately identified what the U.S. authorities see as problem drinking in this age range, offering a quick way to screen teenagers for risky drinking.

“An alcohol use frequency screen followed by an [alcohol use disorder] evaluation among those who screen positive would constitute a simple, brief and cost-effective clinical assessment procedure," the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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