Clinician Screening and Treatment of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Problems in Primary Care

Results from Healthcare for Communities

Published in: Medical Care, v. 42, no. 12, Dec. 2004, p. 1158-1166

Posted on on January 01, 2004

by Mark J. Edlund, Jurgen Unutzer, Kenneth B. Wells

Read More

Access further information on this document at

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

OBJECTIVE: The authors sought to estimate national rates of screening and treatment of alcohol, drug, and mental (ADM) problems in primary care. DESIGN: This was a cross-sectional survey administered from 1997 to 1998. PARTICIPANTS: Our study included a nationally representative household probability sample of 7301 primary care patients. MEASUREMENT: The authors used patient self-reports from a telephone survey to estimate rates of screening and treatment of common ADM problems, to examine the types of screening and treatment received, and to investigate adherence with treatment recommendations. Covariates included measures of ADM conditions, physical health, and sociodemographic indicators. RESULTS: Among adult primary care patients, 38.6% (95% confidence intervals [CI] 37.2-40.0) reported clinician screening for an ADM problem. Alcohol or drug screening occurred more frequently (28.3%; 95% CI 27.0-29.6) than screening for depression and anxiety (21.2%; 95% CI 20.1-22.2). Among those screened, 30.1% (95% CI; 27.8-32.4) reported ADM treatment in primary care. Medications (16.4%; 95% CI 14.3-18.5) and counseling (18.2%; 95% CI 16.1-20.3) were the most common treatments. Rates of screening were higher among individuals with ADM disorders, the young and middle aged, and the college educated. Treatment rates were higher among individuals with ADM disorders. CONCLUSIONS: Substantial effort is expended screening and treating common ADM problems in primary care, and these efforts are targeted towards those with ADM disorders. However, only about half of individuals with an ADM disorder report being screened, and among this group, about 60% report receiving any treatment.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.