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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Substance Abuse and Addiction - Topic Overview

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How are alcohol problems diagnosed?

Alcohol problems may be diagnosed at a routine doctor visit or when you see your doctor for another problem. If a partner or friend thinks you have an alcohol problem, he or she may urge you to see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health, and he or she will do a physical exam and sometimes a mental health assessment. The mental health assessment checks to see whether you may have a mental health problem, such as depression.

Your doctor also may ask questions or do tests to look for health problems linked to alcohol, such as cirrhosis.

How are they treated?

Treatment depends on how bad your alcohol problem is. Some people are able to cut back to a moderate level of drinking with help from a counselor. People who are addicted to alcohol may need medical treatment and may need to stay in a hospital or treatment center.

Your doctor may decide you need detoxification, or detox, before you start treatment. You need detox when you are physically addicted to alcohol. When you go through detox, you may need medicine to help with withdrawal symptoms.

After detox, you focus on staying alcohol-free, or sober. Most people receive some type of therapy, such as group counseling. You also may need medicine to help you stay sober.

When you are sober, you've taken the first step toward recovery. To gain full recovery, you need to take steps to improve other areas of your life, such as learning to deal with work and family. This makes it easier to stay sober.

You will likely need support to stay sober and in recovery. This can include counseling and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Recovery is a long-term process, not something you can achieve in a few weeks.

Treatment doesn't focus on alcohol use alone. It addresses other parts of your life, like your relationships, work, medical problems, and living situation. Treatment and recovery support you in making positive changes so you can live without alcohol.

What can you do if you or another person has a problem with alcohol?

If you feel you have an alcohol problem, get help. Even if you are successful in other areas of your life, visit a doctor or go to a self-help group. The earlier you get help, the easier it will be to cut back or quit.

Helping someone with an alcohol problem is hard. If you're covering for the person, you need to stop. For example, don't make excuses for the person when he or she misses work.

You may be able to help by talking to the person about what his or her drinking does to you and others. Talk to the person in private, when the person is not using drugs or alcohol and when you are both calm. If the person agrees to get help, call for an appointment right away. Don't wait.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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