Children’s Hospital emergency medicine physician James Linakis, MD, PhD,
was recently awarded a five-year, $3.2 million grant from the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) to validate a more efficient test to screen
teenagers for future alcohol abuse and other risk behaviors. Linakis
will be joined on the multi-site study by co-principal investigator
Anthony Spirito, PhD, ABPP, professor of psychiatry & human behavior
at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
The project, titled “Teen Alcohol Screening in the Pediatric Emergency
Care Applied Research Network (PECARN),” will utilize 16 children's
hospital sites to determine if the NIAAA two-question screen is an
efficient and valid alcohol screening instrument among U.S. pediatric
emergency department patients compared to the previously utilized more
Over the past few years, the NIAAA has focused on the importance of
screening adolescents for alcohol problems, but the only screening tools
have been relatively lengthy. A basic, two-question screening
questionnaire was created that the NIAAA hopes will be predictive of
both current and future alcohol problems in adolescents. It asks:
1.) Do you drink alcohol? How much?
2.) Do you have friends who drink alcohol?
“This two-question screening is based on established literature, but it
has never been validated. The NIAAA is asking for PECARN hospital sites
to test the two-question screener, so we can make sure that the
screening system works,” said Linakis.
Adolescents ages 12 to 17, who are being treated in the emergency room,
will be randomly selected to take part in the questionnaire. They will
be asked these questions, along with a series of others to compare them
with longer questionnaires. The goal is to screen 5,000 teens over
three-and-a-half years. Researchers will then contact 1,000 of those
teens and screen them again.
“We want to see if the shorter survey can just as effectively predict
risky behaviors, both current and future,” said Linakis. “When we follow
up we will also be able to see if the questionnaire predicted drug abuse
or risky behaviors, not just alcohol use.”
After the study is complete, Linakis' team and the NIH hope to use this
data to help develop an intervention for adolescents who drink alcohol
and display other unsafe behaviors.
“The study, the data it finds, and the future intervention program will
be extremely helpful for anyone who takes care of kids in a primary care
setting,” said Linakis.