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Clinical recognition and recording of alcohol disorders by clinicians in primary and secondary care: meta-analysis

  • Alex J. Mitchell (a1), Nick Meader (a2), Vicky Bird (a3) and Maria Rizzo (a3)



Clinicians have considerable difficulty identifying and helping those people with alcohol problems but no previous study has looked at this systematically.


To determine clinicians' ability to routinely identify broadly defined alcohol problems.


Data were extracted and rated by two authors, according to PRISMA standard and QUADAS criteria. Studies that examined the diagnostic accuracy of clinicians' opinion regarding the presence of alcohol problems as well as their written notation were evaluated.


A comprehensive search identified 48 studies that looked at the routine ability of clinicians to identify alcohol problems (12 in primary care, 31 in general hospitals and 5 in psychiatric settings). A total of 39 examined alcohol use disorder, 5 alcohol dependence and 4 intoxication. We separated studies into those using self-report and those using interview. The diagnostic sensitivity of primary care physicians (general practitioners) in the identification of alcohol use disorder was 41.7% (95% CI 23.0–61.7) but alcohol problems were recorded correctly in only 27.3% (95% CI 16.9–39.1) of primary care records. Hospital staff identified 52.4% (95% CI 35.9–68.7) of cases and made correct notations in 37.2% (95% CI 28.4–46.4) of case notes. Mental health professionals were able to correctly identify alcohol use disorder in 54.7% (95% CI 16.8–89.6) of cases. There were limited data regarding alcohol dependency and intoxication. Hospital staff were able to detect 41.7% (95% CI 16.5–69.5) of people with alcohol dependency and 89.8% (95% CI 70.4–99.4) of those acutely intoxicated. Specificity data were sparse.


Clinicians may consider simple screening methods such as self-report tools rather than relying on unassisted clinical judgement but the added value of screening over and above clinical diagnosis remains unclear.

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Corresponding author

Alex J. Mitchell, Leicester General Hospital, Leicester Partnership Trust, Leicester LE5 4PW, UK. Email:


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Clinical recognition and recording of alcohol disorders by clinicians in primary and secondary care: meta-analysis

  • Alex J. Mitchell (a1), Nick Meader (a2), Vicky Bird (a3) and Maria Rizzo (a3)


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Clinical recognition and recording of alcohol disorders by clinicians in primary and secondary care: meta-analysis

  • Alex J. Mitchell (a1), Nick Meader (a2), Vicky Bird (a3) and Maria Rizzo (a3)
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