Testing for Alcohol Use Disorder

When you have alcohol use disorder (AUD), you might lose control over when and how much you drink, feel bad when you aren’t drinking, or keep using alcohol even when it starts to cause problems in your life.

People who drink heavily or binge-drink on a regular basis are more likely to have alcohol use disorder. But there’s no specific number of drinks per day that mean you have the condition. The diagnosis depends on how alcohol affects your life.

Here’s what you can do to know if you or a loved one has AUD.

Screening Test for Alcohol Use Disorder

Your answers to some questions about your alcohol use can help you know if you have a problem. In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you drank more or for longer than you meant to?
  • Tried at least once to cut back or stop drinking, but you couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or getting over the effects of alcohol?
  • Felt a strong need, urge, or craving to drink?
  • Found that drinking or its effects kept you from doing work, going to school, or taking care of your family?
  • Continued to drink even when it caused tension with family and friends?
  • Skipped out on activities you enjoy so you could drink?
  • More than once found yourself doing risky things during or after drinking, like driving or having unsafe sex?
  • Kept drinking even though it made you pass out, feel sad or anxious, or made another health problem worse?
  • Had to drink more than you once did to get the same effects?
  • Felt withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, like insomnia, shakiness, nausea, or a racing heart?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may have alcohol use disorder.

See Your Doctor

Talk about alcohol with your doctor. She can do a formal screening to see if you have alcohol use disorder. She might:

  • Ask you questions about your drinking habits, like how much you drink, how often, whether it’s affected your relationships or work, and if you’ve ever done risky things after you’ve had alcohol. She may ask if she can speak with your family members or friends, too. (Remember, she won’t give out any information about you without your consent.)
  • Do a physical exam. She can look for signs that alcohol is affecting your health, such as a mild tremor, an enlarged, tender liver, changing blood pressure, or a fast heartbeat.
  • Do lab tests. There are no specific ones to diagnose alcohol use disorder. But your doctor can test your blood to check how well your liver works, since heavy drinking can affect it.
  • Check your mental health. Your doctor may ask you questions about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. She may have you fill out a questionnaire about your drinking habits.

If you’re diagnosed with AUD, there are a lot of ways you can get help. Treatment can range from individual or group counseling to an outpatient alcohol program to, in severe cases, an inpatient stay. But no matter how severe the problem may seem, treatment can make a difference. It’s best to find help as early as possible.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Alcohol Use Disorder,” “Biomarkers of Heavy Drinking,” “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Substance Use in Women.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “What’s ‘low-risk’ drinking?” “What’s ‘at-risk’ or ‘heavy’ drinking?”

Mayo Clinic: “Alcohol use disorder.”

American Family Physician: “Recognition of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.”

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