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October 3, 1980

Screening for Alcohol Abuse

Author Affiliations

Veterans Administration Medical Center Topeka, Kan

JAMA. 1980;244(14):1559-1560. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310140019015

To the Editor.—  Tennant and coinvestigators (242:533, 1979) in "Screening for Drug and Alcohol Abuse in a General Medical Population" used a checklist inquiring about "alcohol problem" and "drug abuse" and a physical examination to find a 2% incidence of alcohol problems. Screening of a general medical population would be expected to find an incidence of alcoholism of 5% to 10% or more, so either their method had excessive false-negatives, or their population was unusually low in alcohol problems. For the physician wishing to screen for alcohol problems, there are easy methods that can be used that will usually have a higher payoff.The easiest screening method is to ask the patient directly if he or she has any problems from the use of alcohol, and if the response is negative, then ask if the spouse complains about the drinking.1 Even patients who answer negatively to the direct question