A doctor who suspects you have an alcohol problem will ask you several questions regarding drinking habits and may have you fill out a questionnaire. The doctor may ask for permission to speak with family members or friends. Family members may also contact the doctor on their own to discuss their concerns. However, confidentiality laws prevent your doctor from giving out any information about you without your consent.
There are no specific tests to diagnose alcoholism, but you may need other tests for health problems that may be linked to your alcohol use.
To be diagnosed with alcoholism, you must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. These include a pattern of alcohol use leading to serious problems, as indicated by three or more of the following at any time during one 12-month period:
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- Tolerance, indicated by an increase in the amount of alcohol you need to feel drunk (intoxicated). As alcoholism progresses, the amount leading to intoxication can also decrease as a result of damage to your liver or central nervous system.
- Withdrawal symptoms when you cut down or stop using alcohol. These can include tremors, insomnia, nausea and anxiety. You may drink more alcohol in order to avoid those symptoms, sometimes drinking throughout the day.
- Drinking more alcohol than you intended or drinking over a longer period of time than you intended.
- Having an ongoing desire to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so.
- Spending a good deal of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use.
- Giving up important activities, including social, occupational or recreational activities.
- Continuing to use alcohol even though you know it's causing physical and psychological problems.
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- Overview of alcohol consumption. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption. Accessed June 2, 2012.
- Underage drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/underage-drinking. Accessed June 2, 2012.
- Alcohol use disorders. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed June 2, 2012.
- Fetal alcohol exposure. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/fetal-alcohol-exposure. Accessed June 2, 2012.
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- College drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking. June 2, 2012.
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- Thiamin. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional_disorders/vitamin_deficiency_dependency_and_toxicity/thiamin.html. Accessed August 1, 2012.
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