Behavioral HealthOriginal Article

Screening for At-Risk Drinking Behavior in Trauma Patients

Timothy P. Plackett, DO; Hieu H. Ton-That, DO; Jeanne Mueller, RN; Karen M. Grimley, LCSW; Elizabeth J. Kovacs, PhD; and Thomas J. Esposito, MD, MPH
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Accepted: December 18, 2014

Published: June 1, 2015

J Osteopath Med; 115(6): 376-382

Context: A blood alcohol level above 0 g/dL is found in up to 50% of patients presenting with traumatic injuries. The presence of alcohol in the blood not only increases the risk of traumatic injury, but it is also associated with worse outcomes and trauma recidivism. In light of these risks, the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma advocates screening for at-risk drinking. Although many institutions use blood alcohol levels to determine at-risk drinking in trauma patients, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) offers a cheap and easy alternative. Few direct comparisons have been made between these 2 tests in trauma patients.

Objectives: To compare the utility of blood alcohol level and AUDIT score as indicators of at-risk drinking in trauma patients.

Methods: Records for all trauma patients aged 18 years or older who were admitted to a level I trauma center from May 2013 through June 2014 were reviewed in this retrospective cohort study. Inclusion criteria required patients to have undergone both blood alcohol level testing and AUDIT on admission. A blood alcohol level greater than 0 g/dL and an AUDIT score equal to or above 8 were considered positive for at-risk drinking. Performance of both tests was indexed against the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) criteria for at-risk drinking.

Results: Of 750 patients admitted for trauma, 222 records (30%) contained data on both blood alcohol level and AUDIT score. The patients were predominantly male (178 [80%]) and had a mean (SD) age of 40.1 (16.7) years. Most patients (178 [80%]) had sustained blunt trauma. Ninety-seven patients (44%) had a positive blood alcohol level, 70 (35%) had a positive AUDIT score, and 54 (24%) met NIAAA criteria for at-risk drinking. The sensitivity and specificity of having a positive blood alcohol level identify at-risk drinking were 61% and 62%, respectively. The sensitivity and specificity of having a positive AUDIT score identify at-risk drinking were 83% and 81%, respectively.

Conclusions: As a stand-alone indicator of at-risk drinking behavior in trauma patients, the AUDIT score was shown to be superior to blood alcohol level. The utility of obtaining routine blood alcohol levels in trauma patients as a screening tool for at-risk drinking should be reexamined.

Read Full Article