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One question about drinking frequency in the past year can help doctors identify which teens are at risk for alcohol problems, a new study concludes. Teens ages 12 to 17 who report having at least one drink on three or more days in the past year are most at risk for alcohol problems.
The study also supports the use of age-based screening thresholds recommended by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth: A Practitioner’s Guide.
“Primary care physicians are encouraged to screen adolescents for alcohol problems, yet many do not, citing time constraints and other issues,” NIAAA Director George Koob, PhD said in a news release. “This study demonstrates that simple screening tools such as those in NIAAA’s Youth Guide are efficient and effective.”
The study included almost 1,200 young people ages 12 to 20. They were asked about their alcohol use and screened for alcohol use disorder, using a computer-based questionnaire at a primary care clinic in rural Pennsylvania. The researchers found 10 percent of rural youth over age 14 met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year.
For young adults ages 18 to 20, the study found the best screen for alcohol problems was asking whether they had engaged in 12 or more drinking days in the past year.
The findings appear in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“This finding confirms that a single question can be an effective screen for AUD,” said lead researcher Duncan B. Clark, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “We found that this information could be readily collected through our tablet computer system in busy rural clinic settings.”