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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2001 Oct;35(5):606-12.

Impediments to screening for hazardous alcohol use and dependence in general hospital psychiatric inpatients.

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  • 1Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, Australia.



The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) has been developed to screen for hazardous and harmful alcohol consumption. It has been used among a variety of primary care, general population and general hospital populations. However, with the exception of one study undertaken by the author and colleagues, the use of the AUDIT in general hospital psychiatric patients has not been reported. This paper reports on a substudy of this larger study whose aim was to determine the frequency of hazardous alcohol use and dependence among patients admitted to the psychiatric units of general hospitals in Perth, Western Australia, and discusses major reasons for non-AUDIT screening among this group.


In a 12-month period 990 patients aged 18-64 years and residing in the Perth metropolitan area were admitted to the psychiatric unit of the two hospitals. Using the AUDIT alcohol use in patients with four major types of psychiatric disorder, namely mood, adjustment, anxiety and psychotic disorders, was assessed.


Of the 834 admissions targeted for AUDIT screening 263 were not screened. This non-screening represented 27-42% of patients in each of the major diagnostic categories. There was no significant difference in the proportion of patients screened versus not screened for mood, adjustment or schizophrenia/psychosis. There were however, significantly fewer patients with anxiety disorder screened compared with mood disorder. Those non-screened patients in major psychiatric groups had significantly shorter hospital stays than their diagnostic counterparts who were screened. The major reason for non-screening in all groups was due to patients leaving the psychiatric facility before they could be accessed. This included discharge before screening, transfer to another psychiatric facility and short admission. To a lesser extent cognitive dysfunction accounted for non-screening among major diagnostic groups.


Failure to screen patients was largely due to short hospital stays. Screening was impeded by the brief window period, commonly 1 or 2 days, between the absence of acute psychiatric sequelae and discharge. This situation contrasts dramatically to the medical or surgical admission where major sequelae are largely resolved in 2-3 days and AUDIT screening can take place over the remaining 3-4 days prior to discharge. To be effective in the general hospital psychiatric setting, alcohol screening needs to be incorporated into the routine ward assessment procedures. The brevity of the AUDIT makes this possible. This would maximize the time available to implement an intervention programme to those found to be consuming alcohol at a hazardous or harmful level.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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