Use of AUDIT-Based Measures to Identify Unhealthy Alcohol Use and Alcohol Dependence in Primary Care: A Validation Study

J. Aaron Johnson, Anna Lee, Daniel Vinson, J. Paul Seale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Background: As programs for screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) for unhealthy alcohol use disseminate, evidence-based approaches for identifying patients with unhealthy alcohol use and alcohol dependence (AD) are needed. While the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Clinician Guide suggests use of a single alcohol screening question (SASQ) for screening and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual checklists for assessment, many SBIRT programs use alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT) "zones" for screening and assessment. Validation data for these zones are limited. This study used primary care data from a bi-ethnic southern U.S. population to examine the ability of the AUDIT zones and other AUDIT-based approaches to identify unhealthy alcohol use and dependence. Methods: Existing data were analyzed from interviews with 625 female and male adult drinkers presenting to 5 southeastern primary care practices. Timeline follow-back was used to identify at-risk drinking, and diagnostic interview schedule was used to identify alcohol abuse and dependence. Validity measures compared performance of AUDIT, AUDIT-C, and AUDIT dependence domains scores, with and without a 30-day binge drinking measure, for detecting unhealthy alcohol use and dependence. Results: Optimal AUDIT scores for detecting unhealthy alcohol use were lower than current commonly used cutoffs (5 for men, 3 for women). Improved performance was obtained by combining AUDIT cutoffs of 6 for men and 4 for women with a 30-day binge drinking measure. AUDIT scores of 15 for men and 13 for women detected AD with 100% specificity but low sensitivity (20 and 18%, respectively). AUDIT dependence subscale scores of 2 or more showed similar specificity (99%) and slightly higher sensitivity (31% for men, 24% for women). Conclusions: Combining lower AUDIT cutoff scores and binge drinking measures may increase the detection of unhealthy alcohol use in primary care. Use of lower cutoff scores and dependence subscale scores may increase diagnosis of AD; however, better measures for detecting dependence are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E253-E259
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue numberSUPPL.1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Alcohol use disorders identification test
  • Primary care
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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