What is Involved in a Diagnosis of Alcoholism?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2018
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A diagnosis of alcoholism can be fairly difficult for a professional to make because one of the major aspects of alcoholism is intense denial of any problem. This means that family and friends of someone with a problem are often more likely to detect an issue and may need to help a person receive professional help. In general, there are seven symptoms often associated with alcoholism including a neglect of other activities and excessive use of alcohol. A diagnosis of alcoholism can often be made by medical professionals as well; they will often use a short test with only a few questions to indicate a problem, and then mental health professionals will use longer tests to get more specific information.

Much like other forms of psychological diagnosis, a diagnosis of alcoholism often requires direct observation of behavior and questioning by a mental health professional. This can be difficult, however, since massive denial of the problem is a major aspect of alcoholism, and honest answers to questions by a psychologist or therapist may be hard to come by. Many diagnostic tools for alcoholism involve indirect questions that look for behavior through consequences of drinking, rather than directly asking about a person’s drinking.


There are seven key symptoms that can be looked for when trying to make a diagnosis of alcoholism, and family and friends are often more likely than professionals to detect these issues. A neglect of activities other than drinking is one symptom, which is evident when a person spends more time drinking and less time with friends and family or working. Excessive use of alcohol is also typical, as a person tends to drink more and for longer periods of time. A diagnosis of alcoholism can also include noticing that a person has impaired control in dealing with drinking; he or she may express a desire to stop but cannot do so.

This is also tied to another symptom often looked for when making a diagnosis of alcoholism, which is that a person may persist in drinking even though he or she recognizes that it is having a negative impact on his or her life. The person will also typically spend a disproportionate amount of time drinking and involved in alcohol-related activities, such as recovering from drinking or planning to drink. In making a diagnosis of alcoholism a person should also look for increased tolerance within an individual, and someone with a problem will often require more and more alcohol to become intoxicated. This will also often lead to symptoms of withdrawal, and when a person with an alcohol problem stops drinking for any period of time, he or she may exhibit signs of withdrawal such as nausea, shaking, or profuse sweating.



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