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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

NIH issues online course on screening youth for alcohol problems

News Release

A new online training course will help health care professionals conduct fast, evidence-based alcohol screening and brief intervention with youth. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, produced the course jointly with Medscape, a leading provider of online continuing medical education.

“Just in time for back-to-school physicals, physicians, physician assistants, and nurses can learn how to use a simple youth alcohol screening tool and earn up to 2.5 continuing education credits or contact hours,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of NIAAA. “This new course joins NIAAA’s family of evidence-based, user-friendly products to help clinicians identify patients of all ages who are at risk for alcohol-related problems, and to intervene early, when we have the best chance to prevent problems.”

The course presents three engaging case scenarios of youth at different levels of risk for alcohol-related harm. The scenarios illustrate a streamlined, 4-step clinical process outlined in Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth: A Practitioner’s Guide. NIAAA produced the guide in 2011 in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends screening all adolescents regarding alcohol use.

Underage drinking is widespread and a major public health problem. Over the course of adolescence, the proportion of youth who drink more than a few sips escalates from 7 percent of 12-year-olds to nearly 70 percent of 18-year-olds. Heavy drinking is common. Having five or more drinks on one occasion is reported by half of 12 to 15-year-olds who drink and two-thirds of 16-20-year olds who drink.

“Some may see underage drinking as a harmless rite of passage, but when you look at the risks, it is a big deal,” said Vivian B. Faden, Ph.D., associate director for behavioral research, director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications at NIAAA, and co-author of the course. “We developed the guide and the continuing medical education (CME) course to help health care professionals reduce underage drinking and its risks in a way that fits easily into their practice,” said Dr. Faden.

Each year, about 190,000 people under age 21 visit emergency rooms for alcohol-related injuries and about 4,000 die as a result of underage drinking. Youth who drink also have an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence later in life.

Course participants will learn how to use a quick and powerful two-question screening tool. One question asks about the drinking habits of an adolescent’s friends and the other question asks about the adolescent’s own drinking frequency. The course also offers an innovative risk estimator and teaches how to conduct different levels of intervention for lower, moderate, and highest risk patients. Participants will also receive an overview of brief motivational interviewing, an interactive, youth-friendly intervention considered to have the best potential effectiveness for the adolescent population.

“Along with tools and instruction, the course provides a confidence boost that we can quickly identify patients in need of attention, assess what may be the greatest current threat to their health, and manage their care efficiently and well,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, M.D., M.P.H., course co-author, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, and director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Access to the CME course requires a username and password, which users can set up for free.

For more information about NIAAA materials for clinicians, visit the links below:

About the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, is the primary U.S. agency for conducting and supporting research on the causes, consequences, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol use disorder. NIAAA also disseminates research findings to general, professional, and academic audiences. Additional alcohol research information and publications are available at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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