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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Can Alcoholics Learn to Drink Less?


To help doctors and patients identify problem drinking, Schneider suggests asking the following questions, referred to as "C.A.G.E." questions, developed by John Ewing at the University of North Carolina in 1971:

  • Have you ever felt that you should Cut down?
  • Have you ever felt Angry because people asked about your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever needed an Eye-opener (another drink or lots of coffee to get you going) in the morning?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, "you should take that as a warning," Schneider says. "If you answer yes to two, you have a problem." The tell-tale signs of alcohol dependence or addiction include:

  • a compulsion or craving to drink
  • a loss of control over how much and how often you drink
  • continued drinking in spite of negative life consequences, such as family trouble or physical illness

"If you lose your ability to control your drinking and your behavior associated with it, then you've got a problem," Schneider tells WebMD. "It's not so much the amount you drink -- it's what it does to you."

Bradley suggests doctors provide blood tests to patients. Although they can't be used to find out if a patient is dependent or not, they "can help reveal years of heavy drinking and the beginning of [bodily] damage." These are laboratory tools that the doctor can use to "let a drinker know where they stand," she tells WebMD. And given the dangers of abruptly quitting alcohol, such information could be potentially life saving for alcohol-dependent patients, she says.

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