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FAST Alcohol Test: What It Is and How to Administer

26 March, 2024

A medical professional conducting an alcohol assessment test

Alcohol intake is common in many parts of the world. However, hazardous drinking can lead to an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Various types of testing methods are available to identify people with this disorder. One of which is the Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST). The FAST alcohol test is a set of questions that evaluates levels of alcohol use and the risk of alcohol harm. To administer it, a health professional may conduct an interview or provide a printed questionnaire.

Daily drinking or unhealthy alcohol consumption can lead to several negative consequences, such as kidney disease, liver disease, dependency, and reckless behaviours. Dependent alcohol usage also poses high-risk factors for overdose and alcohol poisoning. Therefore, it is essential to identify individuals who may be at risk for AUD, especially in medical settings where time is vital. This article will present information on the FAST, how to administer it, and what occurs after a positive result.

What is a FAST Alcohol Test?

The FAST alcohol test is a tool that measures the level of risk of alcohol harm to an individual. The items in this assessment tool were taken from the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test or AUDIT questionnaire. It is a shorter version that people can use in a range of settings to assess their risk of alcohol harm. Commonly, health professionals use it in primary care settings.

The test comprises four questions that assess the average consumption and frequency of drinking to determine the levels of alcohol usage. It also asks about the effects of drinking, specifically if it has caused memory loss or blackouts, which would indicate hazardous drinking. Lastly, it inquires about the opinions of people around the individual in the context of alcohol use.

Professionals may conduct this as an intervention for alcohol use if they determine that their primary care patient needs to undergo a screen for alcohol misuse. It is a short test that is easy to conduct, even in high patient volumes.

Characteristics of the Tests

  • It is a brief questionnaire derived from the AUDIT items, which is the gold standard for assessing alcohol use.
  • The alcohol screening tool accounts for several factors that may indicate alcohol abuse and risk drinking in the population.
  • The FAST was designed to assess the risk of alcohol abuse in a more efficient method than the AUDIT test. It is handy for emergency medical settings and community settings.
  • Screening for alcohol consumption provides information pertinent to conducting treatment for alcohol use problems.
  • It is a standardised option that can contribute to an objective evaluation
  • They are easy to understand and answer even as a self-questionnaire.

A woman feeling stressed while talking to a professional

How to Administer the FAST Alcohol Test

As it was designed for quick testing, administering the FAST alcohol test is straightforward. Start by asking for basic information, such as the name and gender of the patient. Next, inform them about the purpose of the questionnaire for alcohol screening and encourage them to answer honestly for accuracy of alcohol use assessment.

Afterwards, the healthcare professional may proceed with the interview or hand them a self-test questionnaire. It is important to note that answering never on the first item will net them a score of zero, and they will not need to proceed with testing. This is because the first question asks about alcohol intake. Otherwise, they may proceed with the remaining items, which delve into the effects of drinking.

After answering all the questions, the professional supervising the test may tally the scores based on the designated scoring system. Then, they may explain the results to the individual. Overall, this process will only take a few minutes to conduct.

Scoring System

The scoring system for this alcohol screening test ranges from zero to four for the first three questions. With those, zero means never, one connotes less than monthly, three indicates weekly, and four implies daily or almost daily. Meanwhile, the fourth question only has answers corresponding to zero, two, and four points.

The first question is crucial as it determines the need to continue the test. For example, if they answer never, they can stop the test. A score of one or two means that they should continue the test. Lastly, three or four indicate they should proceed with the full AUDIT questionnaire.

A woman comforting a distressed man

What Happens After a Positive FAST Alcohol Test?

An overall total score of three or more is a positive FAST alcohol test result. Several steps may follow after this since it indicates a high level of risk of alcohol-related harm. Foremost, the tester will proceed with the AUDIT screening for alcohol misuse to get more information on potentially harmful drinking patterns or AUD risks of the patient.

If the result of AUDIT also shows a high risk of developing alcohol-related problems or currently has severe alcohol dependence, they may conduct testing methods using biological samples. Urine, saliva, and blood tests are types done in medical care settings. Hair testing is also possible to determine the history of alcohol dependence.

Data from these tests can help provide insight into suitable treatment options for the hazardous drinker. This is crucial to forming a proper response to alcohol problems that the individual will show positive reactions to. Moreover, this diversified testing approach reduces the risks of false negatives or positives, providing a more accurate assessment of alcohol use and potential risks.

Treatment Resources

Access to treatment resources is crucial for individuals suffering from alcohol abuse disorders. Treatment services include inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centres, support groups, medication-assisted detoxification, and counselling services. Several foundations in Australia provide information, support, and resources for overcoming alcohol disorders.

Some employees may also have access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) from their employers. These treatment interventions can help individuals address their alcohol misuse issues, develop coping strategies, and work towards achieving sobriety. In particular, counselling can help them address the root of their drinking problems. Overall, these can make a significant difference in their quality of life and hazardous drinking habits.

Conclusion

The FAST alcohol test is an effective and cost-effective method of identifying harmful drinking patterns. It is an abbreviated version or shorter form of the AUDIT, which is convenient for emergency medical care interventions. The FAST provides essential information that can contribute to the treatment of alcohol problems. To administer this test, the health professional may conduct a short interview or give them a printed questionnaire. The first question will determine if there is a need to continue the test.

If a person gets an overall score of three or more, they must proceed with the full AUDIT questionnaire. This will classify them into low or high-severity patients. The professional may conduct further testing, including those using biological specimens. The information from these tests contributes to the treatment interventions they will use, such as counselling, detoxification, and support groups. Further testing also reduces the chances of false negatives or positives.

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