Is there a Test to Diagnose Alcoholism?


Page Overview

Alcoholism – formerly known medically as alcohol addiction and now known as moderate to severe alcohol use disorder – is the chronic and uncontrollable use of alcohol, despite experiencing many consequences because of it. Currently, even though we can use blood, urine, hair, and breath to test if someone has recently consumed alcohol, no specific medical test will diagnose the chronic disease of alcoholism. The alcoholism tests you might have heard about don’t diagnose alcoholism, but instead assess a person’s risk for alcoholism or quantify their alcohol consumption. While these tests can be beneficial and can alert a person or their family to a potential problem, they should not replace a proper assessment and thorough exam by a professional as this the best way to accurately diagnose alcoholism.

Assessments for Alcoholism

There are ways to assess someone’s drinking habits which will help determine if the person is an alcoholic or not. This can be done by a family physician or experienced and trained treatment provider. These professionals are skilled at reviewing the results of assessments and using them to determine how much treatment a person needs. There are also self-assessment quizzes an individual can take at home, or family members can administer, to help determine how significant the alcohol use is. It is important to take the assessment to the doctor so he or she can arrive at the most accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

The following are the most widely recognized assessments for alcoholism:

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is a screening tool developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess alcohol consumption, drinking behaviors, and alcohol-related problems. This test consists of a doctor-administered version, as well as a self-assessment. This test's eight questions are straightforward and easy to understand. A score of eight or higher is cause for concern and indicates harmful alcohol use.
The CAGE test is a series of four questions that doctors can ask during a physical to determine their patient's alcohol abuse risk. It was developed by Dr. John Ewing of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is popular because it is short, simple, and easy to remember: C Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking? A Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? G Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking? EEye opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover? Two positive responses on a CAGE test are considered a positive test and indicate further assessment is warranted.
Self Test
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has developed a self-test that individuals can take in the privacy of their own homes. This test consists of 26 questions about drinking habits and behaviors. The benefit of this test is a person can feel more comfortable taking it, but the downside is there is no one to follow through with the individual if the test determines they need help.
Finally, the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test, or MAST, is a quiz of 24 questions that help qualify a person's alcohol consumption. This test is used by physicians, but can be used as a self-test as well.

A general rule is, if you need to ask if your alcohol consumption is out of control, you probably already have a problem. Likewise, if you as a family member have reason to want your loved one to take an alcohol assessment, they most likely have at least the beginning of a problem or ample cause for concern. These quizzes are helpful tools to determine if there is an issue, but then you and your family need to take the next step and get a professional evaluation and the appropriate help for the problem. Dr. Andrea Chamberlain


Accuracy of Alcohol Dependence Tests and Professional Review

Theses assessment tools or screeners are devised to be quick, easy, and cheap. In meeting those three criteria, they obviously won’t be thorough or exact. Their only goal is to let you know probable concern exists and warrants a more thorough evaluation by a professional to determine if a life-threatening problem truly exists.

Of course, assessments are based on a person’s answers to various questions, and are influenced by the person’s perception. In other words, an assessment is only accurate if the person is honest. Someone who lies to cover up their problem will come out with a seemingly clean assessment, and the professional won’t recommend any treatment. But if a person is honest with their answers, these assessments can be quite accurate.

Likewise, self-tests might tell someone they have a problem, but if that person does not tell anyone about the results or seek help, the test is ineffective. In order for someone to benefit from taking the test, they need to be willing to share their results with a professional and accept the recommended treatment strategy based on the more thorough professional evaluation.

It is important to have an alcohol abuse assessment reviewed by a professional. Someone who has experience dealing with alcoholism will be able to

  • professionally diagnose the condition so it is officially in the your medical health records, and
  • prescribe the intensity and types of treatment which will be most effective for helping you re-gain control of your life and not let alcohol gain stronger control.

Always consult a professional when you suspect an alcohol use disorder in yourself or a loved one. It very well could save a life and impact the lives that person touches.

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