Do Objective Measures of Blood Alcohol Concentrations Make More Sense than Self-reports in Emergency Department Studies?

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Abstract

Purpose:

Concerns about self-reports have led to calls for objective measures of blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The present study compared objective measures with self-reports.

Methods:

BAC from breath or blood samples were obtained from 272 randomly sampled injured patients who were admitted to a Swiss emergency department (ED). Self-reports were compared a) between those providing and refusing a BAC test, and b) to estimated peak BAC (EPBAC) values based on BACs using the Widmark formula.

Results:

Those providing BACs were significantly (P < 0.05) younger, more often male, and less often reported alcohol consumption before injury, but consumed higher quantities when drinking. Eighty-eight percent of those with BAC measures gave consistent reports (positive or negative). Significantly more patients reported consumption with negative BAC measures (N = 29) than vice versa (N = 3). Duration of consumption and times between injury and BAC measurement predicted EPBAC better than did the objective BAC measure.

Conclusions:

There is little evidence that patients who provide objective BAC measures deliberately conceal consumption. ED studies must rely on self-reports, eg, take the time period between injury and ED admission into account. Clearly, objective measures are of clinical relevance, eg, to provide optimal treatment in the ED. However, they may be less relevant to establishing effects in an epidemiologic sense, such as estimating risk relationships. In this respect, efforts to increase the validity and reliability of self-reports should be preferred over the collection of additional objective measures.

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