Alcohol and Mortality: Combining Self-Reported (AUDIT-C) and Biomarker Detected (PEth) Alcohol Measures Among HIV Infected and Uninfected

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Unhealthy alcohol use may be particularly detrimental among individuals living with HIV and/or hepatitis C virus (HCV), and is often under-reported. Direct biomarkers of alcohol exposure may facilitate improved detection of alcohol use.


We evaluated the association of alcohol exposure determined by both self-report [Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C)] and a direct biomarker [phosphatidylethanol (PEth)], with mortality among HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study-Biomarker Cohort. We considered PEth <8 ng/mL to represent no alcohol use. Alcohol exposure by AUDIT-C scores [0, 1–3/1–2 (men/women), 4–7/3–7 (men/women), 8–12] and PEth (<8, ≥8) was combined into categories to model the relationship of alcohol with mortality. Participants were followed from blood collection date for 5 years or until death within 5 years.


The sample included 2344 (1513 HIV+; 831 uninfected) individuals, 95% men. During a median follow-up of 5 years, 13% died. Overall, 36% were infected with HCV (40% HIV+/HCV+, 27% HIV−/HCV+). Overall, 43% (1015/2344) had AUDIT-C = 0 (abstinence). Of these, 15% (149/1015) had PEth ≥8 suggesting recent alcohol exposure. Among those with AUDIT-C = 0, HCV+ individuals were more likely to have PEth ≥8. After controlling for age, sex, race, HIV, HCV, and HIV viral suppression, those with AUDIT-C = 0 but PEth ≥8 had the highest risk of mortality (adjusted hazard ratio 2.15, 95% confidence interval: 1.40 to 3.29).


PEth in addition to self-report may improve detection of alcohol use in clinical settings, particularly among those at increased risk of harm from alcohol use. Individuals infected with HCV were more likely to under-report alcohol use.

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