Alcohol misuse - Diagnosis 

Diagnosing alcohol misuse  

Alcohol units: men

If men regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day, it could add up to a serious health problem.

Media last reviewed: 06/09/2013

Next review due: 06/09/2015

Check your drinking

Are you drinking too much?

Use the drink self-assessment to find out if you're drinking too much.

If you visit your GP because you're concerned about your drinking, or if you are treated for an alcohol-related injury or illness, your alcohol misuse may be assessed.

An alcohol assessment usually involves having a number of screening tests that consist of a series of questions.

It's important that you're truthful when answering the questions, so you can receive the appropriate treatment. Your GP or the healthcare professional carrying out the tests will not judge you.

Three commonly used tests are the:

  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)
  • Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST)
  • Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire (SADQ)

These tests are described below.

Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It's a widely used screening test that can help people identify whether they might need to think about changing their drinking habits.

AUDIT involves answering 10 questions about your drinking habits to assess the effects it could have on you. Questions include:

  • How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
  • How many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when you are drinking?
  • How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?
  • How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

The test is usually carried out under the guidance of a healthcare worker.

After you've completed the test your score will be calculated. If the results show that you're drinking hazardously or harmfully, the healthcare worker will advise you about appropriate treatments and services.

Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST)

The Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST) is a simpler test that you can use to check whether your drinking has reached hazardous levels.

FAST consists of four questions, listed below. The number after each answer is that answer's score.

1. How often do you drink eight or more units (men) or six or more units (women) on one occasion?

  • never (if this is your answer you can stop the test)
  • less than monthly (1)
  • monthly (2)
  • weekly (3)
  • daily or almost daily (4)

2. How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

  • never (0)
  • less than monthly (1)
  • monthly (2)
  • weekly (3)
  • daily or almost daily (4)

3. How often during the past year have you failed to do what was normally expected of you because you had been drinking?

  • never (0)
  • less than monthly (1)
  • monthly (2)
  • weekly (3)
  • daily or almost daily (4)

4. In the last year has a relative or friend, or a doctor or other health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested that you cut down?

  • no (0)
  • yes, on one occasion (1)
  • yes, on more than one occasion (2)

A FAST score of three or more indicates that you're drinking at a hazardous level.

Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire (SADQ)

As well as helping to identify a person’s dependence on alcohol, the Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire (SADQ) can also be used to indicate the severity of dependence.

The SADQ is a 20-item questionnaire that has a maximum score of 60. It focuses on five key areas of alcohol dependence. They are:

  • physical withdrawal
  • affective withdrawal
  • withdrawal relief drinking
  • alcohol consumption
  • rapidity of reinstatement

The SADQ is often used by healthcare professionals because it’s very quick and simple to use and it doesn’t require any specialist training to carry out or score.

A person with mild alcohol dependence (SADQ score of 15 or less) will not usually need assisted alcohol withdrawal.

Someone with moderate dependence (SADQ score of 16-30) will usually need assisted alcohol withdrawal, which can often be managed in the community.

Someone who is severely alcohol dependent (SADQ score of more than 30) will need assisted alcohol withdrawal. This will usually be carried out in an inpatient or residential setting.

Read more about how alcohol misuse is treated.

Page last reviewed: 17/10/2013

Next review due: 17/10/2015

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