Best Screening for Teen Alcohol Abuse?

by Robert L. Findling, MD

Hello. My name is Dr. Robert Findling. I am Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospital Case Medical Center, and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University. Today I am going to talk about adolescent alcohol abuse. Alcohol-related problems are not uncommon in teenagers. The sequelae associated with alcohol use in teens can be quite grave. As a result of the perniciousness of alcohol-related problems in teenagers, identifying means by which to reduce the prevalence, and thereby the serious outcomes, of these issues is a very important endeavor.

We have some good news. Available data now suggest that routinely screening teenagers for alcohol use can be an important first step toward reducing negative outcomes. A recent study published in Pediatrics by Chung and colleagues[1] set out to identify an efficient tool with which to screen teenagers for potential alcohol-related problems. These investigators used an instrument that came from the, and the study pertained to youth 12-18 years of age.

Chung and colleagues explored 3 potential screening items for 4 alcohol-related problems and examined their utility as indicators. One of the items focused on the frequency of drinking. Another considered the amount of alcohol consumed when drinking, and the third looked at the frequency of periods when heavy drinking occurred. Of the 3 potential screening questions, they found that simply knowing the frequency of drinking was the best means by which to screen for alcohol problems. Ultimately, it’s the frequency of drinking that is a sensitive and specific indicator of alcohol-related problems in teens.

As healthcare professionals, it is important for us to ask young people about the frequency with which they drink alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Screening is not beneficial without appropriate follow-up and, if necessary, treatment of problematic alcohol use. Simply asking about the frequency of alcohol consumption can be a powerful means to detect ethanol-related problems in teenagers, and this is good news indeed. I am Dr. Robert Findling.


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