To determine the most effective marker of hazardous alcohol drinking in trauma patients.Methods
A prospective study of 349 trauma patients aged 16–49 years admitted into a general hospital trauma centre. Information on the amount and pattern of alcohol drinking was obtained by interview. Blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC), serum gammaglutamyl transferase (GGT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) and the mean corpuscular volume (MCV) of erythrocytes were measured as markers of alcohol consumption.Results
In this series, 8% of all trauma patients were found to be dependent drinkers, while 61% were frequent binge drinkers, 17% infrequent binge drinkers, 8% light-to-moderate drinkers and 6% nondrinkers. On admission, the BAC test was positive in 68% of the hazardous drinkers (i.e. dependent drinkers or frequent binge drinkers). Using a cut-off level of >0 mg/dl, the sensitivity and specificity of the BAC test for identifying hazardous drinking were 68% (95% confidence intervals [CI], 61–73%) and 94% (95% CI, 87–97%), respectively, and the positive predictive value was 96% (95% CI, 92–98%). GGT, MCV, CDT and AST were less accurate indicators of hazardous drinking. BAC was the least expensive marker.Conclusions
Two-thirds of trauma patients were hazardous drinkers, and blood alcohol on admission was an accurate indicator of this. BAC should be systematically used in trauma centres if patients are to be selected for an alcohol intervention.