• Diagnosis of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

    It may not be easy for you to accept the fact that you need help for an alcohol problem . But keep in mind that the sooner you get help, the better your chances are for a successful recovery.
    You may have concerns about discussing drinking-related problems with your doctor. This may stem from common misconceptions about alcoholism and people who have alcoholism. In our society, some people may perceive alcohol problems as a sign of moral weakness. As a result, you may feel that to seek help is to admit some type of shameful defect in yourself. However, taking steps to identify a possible drinking problem has an enormous payoff: a chance for a healthier, more rewarding life.
    A diagnosis of alcohol abuse or alcoholism is often based on an initial assessment, physical examination, and psychological evaluation.

    Initial Assessment

    When you visit your doctor, she will ask you a number of questions about your alcohol use to determine whether you are having problems related to your drinking. Try to answer these questions as fully and honestly as you can. These are some of the questions you may be asked:
    • Have you tried to reduce your drinking?
    • Have you felt bad about your drinking?
    • Have you been annoyed by another person’s criticism of your drinking?
    • Do you drink in the morning to steady your nerves or cure a hangover?
    • Do you have problems with a job, your family, or the law?
    • Do you drive under the influence of alcohol?

    Physical Examination and Tests

    You also will be given a physical examination, which may include the following tests:
    • Blood tests to look at the size of your red blood cells and to check for a substance called carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), a measure of alcohol consumption
    • Blood tests to check for alcohol-related liver disease and other health problems, such as gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT)
    If your doctor concludes that you may be dependent on alcohol, she may recommend that you see a specialist in alcoholism. You should be involved in any referral decisions and have all treatment choices explained to you.

    Psychological Evaluation

    You may also be evaluated for psychiatric disorders that often occur with alcoholism, such as anxiety disorders and depression . You may be evaluated by your doctor or be referred to a mental health professional.


    American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

    Carson RC, Butcher JN, Mineka S. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life . 11th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon; 2000.

    Helping patients who drink too much: a clinician’s guide. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Practitioner/CliniciansGuide2005/clinicians%5Fguide.htm . Accessed April 14, 2007.

    Revision Information

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