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Alcoholism (cont.)

How Do Health-Care Professionals Diagnose Alcoholism?

The diagnosis of alcohol use disorder is generally made by reviewing the person's behavior except when the person has symptoms of withdrawal or damage to organs that is clearly the result of alcohol consumption.

Alcohol use disorder is defined as the consumption of alcohol to the point at which it interferes with the individual's life from an occupational, social, or health standpoint. It follows that behavior exhibited by an individual with this disorder can be interpreted in different ways by different people. This often makes the diagnosis of alcoholism somewhat difficult.

  • Several screening tests are routinely employed to identify people at risk for alcoholism. Such tests usually consist of one or more questionnaires. Commonly used tests are the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST), the CAGE questionnaire, and the TACE questionnaire.
    • The Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) is a 22-question quiz often used in a clinical counseling setting.
    • The CAGE questionnaire, for example, asks the following four questions. "Yes" answers to two or more of these questions indicate a high likelihood of alcoholism.
      • Have you felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
      • Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
      • Have you felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
      • Have you ever had to drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?
    • The TACE questionnaire is similar. It also asks four questions. The more "yes" answers a person has to these questions, the higher the likelihood of this person drinking excessively.
      • Does it Take more than two drinks to get you high?
      • Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
      • Have you ever felt you ought to Cut down on your drinking?
      • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves (Eye opener)?
  • A doctor may draw blood to evaluate your liver functions, check for the presence of anemia, and/or electrolyte imbalance (blood chemistry levels). Alcoholic individuals often have elevated liver function tests, which indicate liver damage. Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) is the most sensitive liver function test. It can be elevated after only a few weeks of excess alcohol consumption. Alcohol-dependent people may also have anemia (low blood cell count), as well as electrolyte disturbances including low potassium, low magnesium, and low calcium.
  • Often the initial visit with a doctor is for medical or surgical complications of alcohol consumption. In those cases, the doctor will perform and order additional tests depending on the symptoms (for example, abdominal problems, heart failure, alcohol withdrawal, or cirrhosis).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/11/2016

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