Easy 2-Step Screening Tool Detects Underage Drinking

Yael Waknine

October 14, 2011

October 14, 2011 — A new tool to screen children and teenagers for alcohol was introduced today by the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"Routine screening and intervention for alcohol use in young people is critical to preventing the constellation of problems associated with adolescent drinking," said Howard Koh, MD, MPH, in a National Institutes of Health news release. The new screening tool offers "an opportunity to engage young patients before it is too late."

Dr. Koh is assistant secretary for health at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The screening tool was developed in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse, clinical researchers, and health practitioners.

A simple, fast, and effective early-detection test that is easily managed by busy practitioners, the tool consists of 2 basic questions: one to quantify a patient's use of alcohol in the past year, and the other to inquire about friends' consumption of alcohol as a predictor of future use.

"People who start drinking before the age of 15 are much more likely to have alcohol problems later in life than those who begin drinking at age 21 or older," noted Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "By helping clinicians identify underage drinking early, this simple and straightforward tool will help young people avoid behaviors that prevent them from achieving their full potential."

In addition to the 2-question screen, the guide includes a chart to determine the risk for adverse consequences based on age and the level of alcohol consumption. Options for follow-up range from a motivational discussion regarding the medical implications of alcohol abuse to referrals for additional treatment.

"Clinicians who care for young people are well aware of the many harms caused by underage drinking," said Sharon Levy, MD, MPH. "The guide takes much of the mystery out of intervening with young patients who are drinking, allowing clinicians to proceed within a clinical framework of low, moderate, or high risk. It will enable pediatricians and other clinicians who care for young people to easily incorporate alcohol screening across the care spectrum, from annual visits to urgent care."

Dr. Levi serves as chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Substance Abuse and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

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