HealthDay News — Asking patients single screening questions (SSQs) about alcohol and drug use is an effective method for identifying substance abuse in the primary care setting, according to researchers.

“SSQs can identify substance dependence as well as and sometimes better than longer screening tools,” Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, of Boston University, and colleagues reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

They conducted a cross-sectional study involving 286 primary care patients. The SSQ consisted of asking patients how many times they used alcohol or a specific drug in the past year. The patients were also administered the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test–Consumption (AUDIT-C), the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST), and a diagnostic interview reference standard for dependence.

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The overall prevalence of alcohol and other drug dependence was 9% and 12%, respectively.

Optimal cutoffs for alcohol dependence were a response of eight or more times for the SSQ and a score of three or more for AUDIT-C, the researchers determined. Optimal cutoffs for dependence on other drugs were a response of three or more times for the SSQ and a score of four or more for the DAST.

Sensitivity and specificity, respectively, were 88% and 84% for the alcohol SSQ, 92% and 71% for the AUDIT-C, 97% and 79% for the other drug SSQ, and 100% and 84% for the DAST.

“SSQs may be useful for both screening and preliminary assessment, thus overcoming a barrier (seen with lengthy questionnaires) to dissemination of screening and brief intervention in primary care settings,” the researchers concluded.


  1. Saitz R et al. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014;75:153-157.