Comparing the Alcohol-Related Problems Survey (ARPS) to Traditional Alcohol Screening Measures in Elderly Outpatients

Published in: Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, v. 34, no. 1, Feb. 2002, p. 55-78

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2001

by Arlene Fink, Mark C. Tsai, Ron D. Hays, Alison A. Moore, Sally C. Morton, Karen Spritzer, John Beck

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Older drinkers may incur alcohol-related risks at low consumption levels, but commonly used screening measures do not address alcohol's effects among persons with declining health and increased medication use. The authors compared the newly developed Alcohol-Related Problems Survey (ARPS) to three validated alcohol screens: the Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-opener (CAGE), Short-Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (SMAST), and Alcohol-Use Identification Test (AUDIT). The ARPS classifies drinking as non-hazardous, hazardous or harmful. Non-hazardous drinking is defined as consumption with no known risks for adverse physical or psychological health events. Hazardous drinking is consumption with such risks. Harmful drinking results in adverse events. The AUDIT screens for hazardous and harmful drinking; the CAGE and SMAST identify abusive (e.g. failure to fulfill social obligations) and dependent (e.g. having withdrawal symptoms) drinkers. In this study of 574 current drinkers 65 years and older who completed the ARPS and AUDIT in primary care clinics, half were randomly assigned to complete the CAGE and half, the SMAST. Drinkers who screened positive on the CAGE, SMAST or AUDIT were correctly classified by the ARPS as hazardous or harmful drinkers 91, 75, and 100% of the time, respectively. The majority of ARPS-identified hazardous or harmful drinkers did not screen positive on the CAGE, SMAST or AUDIT. These drinkers had medical conditions or used medications that placed them at risk for adverse health events, none of which was addressed in these three screens. In this study, the ARPS identified nearly all drinkers detected by the CAGE, SMAST, and AUDIT and detected hazardous and harmful drinkers not identified by these measures.

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