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Beyond Alcoholism: Identifying Older, At-Risk Drinkers in Primary Care

Alison A. Moore, John C. Beck, Thomas F. Babor, Ron D. Hays, David B. Reuben

Objective: To evaluate the validity and reliability of two self-report instruments: the Alcohol-Related Problems Survey (ARPS) and its shorter version the Short ARPS (shARPS) that identify older persons whose use of alcohol alone or with their comorbidities may be placing them at risk for or causing them harm. Method: We compared the two measures against a “LEAD” (longitudinal evaluation done by experts employing all available data) standard among a sample of 166 drinkers aged 60 years and older in 10 internal medicine clinics. The LEAD standard included a medical record review, a clinical interview and a telephone interview with a collateral informant. We tabulated reasons the LEAD identified subjects as harmful or hazardous drinkers. We also compared the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test-Geriatric Version (SMAST-G) to the LEAD. Results: Sensitivity and specificity of the ARPS and the shARPS as compared to the LEAD were 93% and 63%, and 92% and 51%, respectively. After minor changes were made in the scoring rules, specificity increased to 66% for both the ARPS and shARPS while sensitivity remained stable, 93% and 91%. Harmful and hazardous drinkers were most often identified because of alcohol use with comorbidities, symptoms, and medication use. Sensitivity and specificity of the AUDIT and the SMAST-G as compared to the LEAD were 28% and 100%, and 52% and 96%, respectively. Conclusions: The ARPS and shARPS are quite sensitive in identifying older drinkers with a spectrum of alcohol use disorders. They are more sensitive than the AUDIT and the SMAST-G in identifying older persons who may be at risk or experiencing harm as a result of their alcohol use and comorbidities. They also provide information on specific risks associated with alcohol use not obtained by other screening measures and may therefore facilitate interventions by busy clinicians to reduce such risks. (J. Stud. Alcohol 63: 316-324, 2002)