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. 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

Your doctor 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. Testing is not required to make a diagnosis, but your doctor may want blood tests. These tests can:

  • Measure the size of your red blood cells
  • Look for anemia
  • Evaluate liver and kidney function
  • Look for liver disease or damage

If your doctor concludes that you may be dependent on alcohol, you may be referred to 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.

Revision Information

  • Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 24, 2014. Accessed February 24, 2014.

  • Alcohol withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 6, 2012. Accessed February 24, 2014.

  • Alcoholism. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online website. Available at: http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/conditions/alcoholism. Updated April 9, 2013. Accessed February 24, 2014.

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Helpguide website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/alcohol%5Fabuse%5Falcoholism%5Fsigns%5Feffects%5Ftreatment.htm. Updated August 2013. Accessed February 24, 2014.

  • Beyond hangovers: Understanding alcohol's impact on your health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf. Accessed February 24, 2014.

  • 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/guide.pdf. Updated May 2007. Accessed February 24, 2014.