Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (cont.)

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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 1/21/2014

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