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Alcohol Alcohol. 2011 May-Jun;46(3):283-91. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agr021. Epub 2011 Mar 17.

Different methods of early identification of risky drinking: a review of clinical signs.

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Department of Social Medicine, the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 453, 40530 Göteborg, Sweden.



To review the literature on detection of risky drinking to compare early identification based on everyday clinical encounters with systematic screening. We also reviewed specific clinical signs that have been suggested to be used as indicators of risky drinking.


A literature review was performed in PubMed and CINAHL of articles up to November 2010.


Systematic screening and semi-systematic methods in various forms detected more risky drinkers than non-systematic identification during clinical encounter, but there was a lack of studies comparing the various means of identifying risky drinking. It may be too early to completely rule out the possibility of using non-systematic methods as an effective strategy to identify risky drinking. The earliest signs of risky drinking suggested in the literature are psychological distress and social problems.


From a public health perspective, there is a lack of evidence that non-systematic or semi-systematic methods can substitute systematic screening in terms of numbers of risky drinkers detected. If early signs are going to be used to identify risky drinkers, or those to be screened for risky drinking, more focus should be on psychological and social signs because they appear earlier than somatic signs.

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