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Signs and Symptoms

Men who consume 15 or more drinks a week, women who consume 12 or more drinks a week, or anyone who consumes 5 or more drinks per occasion at least once a week are all at risk for developing alcoholism. (One drink is defined as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) uses the following questions to screen for alcohol abuse or dependence.

  • Have you felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Do you ever drive when you have been drinking?
  • Is someone in your family concerned about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had any blackouts after drinking?
  • Have you ever been absent from work or lost a job because of drinking?
  • Do you have to drink more than before to achieve intoxication or the desired effect?

Some of the symptoms associated with alcoholism include:

  • Drinking alone
  • Making excuses to drink
  • Need for daily or frequent use of alcohol for adequate function
  • Lack of control over drinking, with inability to discontinue or reduce alcohol intake
  • Episodes of violence associated with drinking
  • Secretive behavior to hide alcohol related behavior
  • Hostility when confronted about drinking
  • Neglect of food intake
  • Neglect of physical appearance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking in the morning
  • Abdominal pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Confusion

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary from mild to severe and may include:

  • Rapid heart rate and sweating
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Tremors and seizures

All physicians should ask their patients about their drinking. A history may be obtained from family if the affected person is unwilling or unable to answer questions. A physical examination is performed to identify physical problems related to alcohol use.

  • A toxicology screen or blood alcohol level confirms recent alcohol ingestion, which does not necessarily confirm alcoholism.
  • Liver function tests can be elevated. GGPT (glutaryl transaminase) is often elevated more than other liver function tests.
  • CBC (complete blood count) - MCV can be elevated (mean corpuscular volume or size of the red blood cells).
  • Serum magnesium, uric acid, total protein, and folate tests may be abnormal.



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