Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (Alcohol Use Disorder)

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Quick GuideAlcohol Abuse Pictures Slideshow: 12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Alcohol Abuse Pictures Slideshow: 12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

How do physicians diagnose alcohol use disorder?

As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has an alcohol-use disorder. Screening tools, including online or other tests may help identify individuals who are at risk for having a drinking problem. Therefore, health-care professionals diagnose alcohol abuse or dependence by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information. The practitioner will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary-care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental-health symptoms.

In asking questions about mental-health symptoms, mental-health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from alcohol or other drug abuse or dependence disorders, as well as depression and/or manic symptoms, anxiety, hallucinations, or delusions or behavioral disorders. Physicians may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for substance-use disorders. Since some of the symptoms of alcohol use disorder can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental-health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from a mood disorder or anxiety disorder, as well as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders, or personality or behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/5/2015

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