Lengthy questionnaires and long evaluations may not be the best way for physicians to identify substance abuse, concludes a new study. Researchers from Boston University School of Public Health found that asking a single question about a patient's alcohol or drug habit can elicit a substantial amount of information.
"We found that single questions may be useful in both screening and preliminary assessment [of substance abuse severity]," said Dr. Richard Saitz, the report's lead author in a press release. "Instead of extensive interviews or long questionnaires, which are a barrier to screening in primary care settings, this approach may make it much easier to identify and appropriately address unhealthy substance use.
The study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, analyzed the responses of nearly 300 patients from the primary care clinic at Boston Medical Center. Participants were asked how many times they had consumed more than four (for women) or five (for men) alcoholic beverages in one sitting during the past year. In addition, they were asked how many times they had used an illegal drug or prescription for non-medical reasons in the past year.
The results were then compared to responses from typical drug use questionnaires. The single question screening technique accurately detected an alcohol problem 88 percent of the time and drug dependency 97 percent of the time. This is similar to what can be determined from a long-form evaluation. Saitz noted that while it is important for a physician to spend time treating a patient's substance abuse problem, a quick diagnosis is necessary to prevent the issue from getting worse.