(HealthDay News) – Asking patients single screening questions (SSQs) in the primary care setting is an effective method for identifying substance dependence, according to research published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Richard Saitz, MD, MPH, of Boston University, and colleagues administered SSQs about how many episodes of heavy alcohol use or other drug use occurred in the past year, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C), and the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST) to 286 patients in a primary care setting.

The researchers found that optimal cutoffs for alcohol dependence were a response of eight or more times for the SSQ and a score of >3 for AUDIT-C. Optimal cutoffs for dependence on other drugs were a response of >3 times for the SSQ and a score of >4 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 can identify substance dependence as well as and sometimes better than longer screening tools,” the authors write.

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