Clinician suspicion of an alcohol problem: An observational study from the AAFP National Research Network

Daniel C. Vinson, Barbara J. Turner, Brian K. Manning, James M. Galliher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


PURPOSE In clinical practice, detection of alcohol problems often relies on clinician suspicion instead of using a screening instrument. We assessed the sensitivity, specif city, and predictive values of clinician suspicion compared with screening-detected alcohol problems in patients. METHODS We undertook a cross-sectional study of 94 primary care clinicians' off ce visits. Brief questionnaires were completed separately after a visit by both clinicians and eligible patients. The patient's anonymous exit questionnaire screened for hazardous drinking based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identif cation Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) and for harmful drinking (alcohol abuse or dependence) based on 2 questions from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. After the visit, clinicians responded to the question, "Does this patient have problems with alcohol?" with answer options including "yes, hazardous drinking" and "yes, alcohol abuse or dependence." Analyses assessed the associations between patients' responses to screening questions and clinician's suspicions. RESULTS Of 2,518 patients with an off ce visit, 2,173 were eligible, and 1,699 (78%) completed the exit questionnaire. One hundred seventy-one (10.1%) patients had a positive screening test for hazardous drinking (an AUDIT-C score of 5 or greater) and 64 (3.8%) for harmful drinking. Clinicians suspected alcohol problems in 81 patients (hazardous drinking in 37, harmful drinking in 40, and both in 4). The sensitivity of clinician suspicion of either hazardous or harmful drinking was 27% and the specif city was 98%. Positive and negative predictive values were 62% and 92%, respectively. CONCLUSION Clinician suspicion of alcohol problems had poor sensitivity but high specif city for identifying patients who had a positive screening test for alcohol problems. These data support the routine use of a screening tool to supplement clinicians' suspicions, which already provide reasonable positive predictive value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-59
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Alcoholism
  • Drinking behavior
  • Hazardous drinking
  • Mass screening
  • Prevention & control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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