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Capture-recapture methods to size alcohol related problems in a population
  1. Giovanni Corraoa,
  2. Vincenzo Bagnardia,
  3. Giovanni Vittadinib,
  4. Sergio Favillic
  1. aDepartment of Statistics, Faculty of Statistical Sciences, Chair of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology, University of Milan, Bicocca, Italy, bDivision of Internal Medicine, Unit of Alcohology, Salvatore Maugeri Foundation, Pavia, Italy, cSchool of Health Statistics, Faculty of Medicine, University “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy
  1. Professor Corrao, Dipartimento di Statistica; Università degli Studi di Milano, Bicocca, Via Bicocca degli Arcimboldi (angolo Viale Sarca, 202), Edificio U7, 20126 Milan, Italy (


STUDY OBJECTIVE To investigate the utility of capture-recapture methods to estimate prevalence of subjects with alcohol related disorders using multiple incomplete lists.

DESIGN This was a cross sectional study of alcohol related disorders in a large community.

SETTING During 1997 identified cases with known alcohol related disorders were independently flagged by four sources (self help volunteering groups; psychiatric ambulatory; public alcohology service; hospital discharges).

PATIENTS 381 records were flagged, corresponding to 349 individual cases from a target population resident in a northern Italy area.

MAIN RESULTS The two sample capture-recapture estimates were clearly biased because of dependencies among sources. Estimates based on log-linear models showed prevalent counts ranged from 2297 (95% confidence intervals: 1524, 3794) to 2523 (95% confidence intervals: 1623, 4627) after adjustment for dependence among sources only or also for heterogeneity in catchability among age categories (< 50 and ⩾ 50 years), respectively.

CONCLUSIONS The study suggests that capture-recapture is an appropriate approach for estimating prevalence of subjects with alcohol related problems who seek or need treatment and assistance when different lists of alcoholics can be obtained from different types of agencies involved with problematic use of alcohol. Critical factors are the complexity in case definition and the analysis of heterogeneity among people. Accurate estimates are needed to plan and evaluate public health interventions.

  • alcohol related problems
  • capture-recapture
  • log-linear models

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  • Conflicts of interest: none.