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How is Alcoholism Diagnosed?

Diagnosing alcoholism is complicated as it depends on a patient’s candour.In some cases people who abuse alcohol realise the severity of their habits, and will reach out for help from medical professionals at their own initiative. However, a lot of times it takes an intervention from concerned loved ones in that person’s life and encourage an alcoholic to get professional help.

To aid in the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism, many doctors screen for potential issues by asking all patients about their drinking habits during routine physicals. If alcohol abuse is suspected, doctors should continue to question the patient about their alcohol consumption to determine if the patient as at high-risk. When conducting these screenings, doctors should be on the lookout for risk factors that might put someone at more risk or medications that might react dangerously with alcohol. To conduct this screening process, doctors can either interview the patient or administer a short survey. Since alcoholics generally try to conceal their drinking problems, these surveys ask about problems and symptoms that might come from alcohol abuse, as opposed to trying to get the patient to admit to the actual quantity of alcohol they drink.

Surveys to Aid in the Diagnosis of Alcoholism

There are several surveys designed to help medical professionals diagnose alcoholism. One of the most widely used surveys is the CAGE test. The survey asks four questions, and two affirmative answers may suggest that the patient may be at risk:

The “C” question asks if they felt the need to “cut” down on alcohol.
The “A” question asks if they ever felt annoyed when others discussed their heavy drinking.
The “G” question asks if they have experienced guilt about drinking.
The “E” question asks if they have used alcohol as an “eye-opener” to wake up or cure a hangover in the morning.

Critics have argued that this diagnostic may not help diagnose binge drinkers or elderly alcoholics.

Another diagnostic test for alcoholism is known as the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test). This test asks ten questions about whether or not the person is dependent on alcohol, how often and how much the person drinks, and about problems related to alcohol consumption.

Other alcoholism diagnostics include the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) and Alcohol Dependence Scale (ADS).

Medical Tests to Diagnose Alcoholism

It can be difficult to identify alcoholism in elderly people, because symptoms of alcoholism are easily written off as symptoms of old age.  For example, memory problems, or lack of balance that may come from alcoholism might be interpreted as a symptom of old age in the patient’s mind, as well as in the doctor’s mind. When physicians hear complaints of symptoms like this, where they cannot find an identifiable cause, they should do a screening for alcoholism.

If it is discovered that a patient likely does suffer from alcoholism, doctors should perform physical exams and run tests. Tests for alcohol in the blood cannot generally indicate alcoholism, because they only show recent consumption, rather than chronic abuse. However, there are various lab tests that measure specific compounds and hormones that may indicate alcoholism:

  • High levels of CDT (Carbohydrate-deficient transferring) indicate heavy drinking. Testing for CDT is the only FDA approved lab test available to help doctors monitor progress towards reducing alcohol consumption.
  • GGT (Gamma-glutamyltransferase) is an enzyme in the liver that is often elevated in the bloodstream of alcoholics or after recent alcohol consumption.
  • AST (Aspartate) and ALT (alanine aminotransaminases) can show whether liver damage has occurred.
  • Since alcohol reduces testosterone in men, low amounts of testosterone my indicate alcoholism.

An MCV (Mean corpuscular volume) test can determine if an alcoholic has vitamin deficiencies, based on the how big red blood cells are.

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