Most adults who drink alcohol are moderate drinkers. They are at low risk
for having a dependence on alcohol. If you are worried about your drinking, however, this
tool will help you find out if you have a problem with alcohol.
The following four questions are used by health care providers to screen
for alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. The questions are collectively called CAGE. The
name comes from the first letter of each question's theme.
Your answers to these questions suggest that you have a problem with alcohol. You should see your health care provider right away to talk about your answers to these questions. He or she can help you find out whether you have a drinking problem. If you do, your provider can recommend the best course of action.
Your answers to these questions show that you have a problem with alcohol. See your health care provider right away to talk about your answers to these questions. He or she can help confirm that you have a drinking problem. He or she can also recommend the best course of action.
Your answers to these questions suggest that you do not have a problem with alcohol. See your health care provider if your drinking gets you in trouble with your job, family life, health or the law.
About Alcohol Use and Abuse
Drinking is often a casual part of social life. Light drinking also may help cut the risk for heart disease in middle-aged or older adults. Moderate drinking is no more than two drinks a day for most healthy men. It is no more than one drink a day for most healthy nonpregnant women and men older than 65. A standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle or can of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine or 1-1/2 ounces of distilled spirits.
Alcoholism, also known as "alcohol dependence," is a disease that causes a powerful craving for alcohol. But not all problems with alcohol are caused by alcoholism. Misusing alcohol can lead to serious or life-threatening results. People who misuse alcohol aren't always alcoholics. Drinking too much over a long period of time can raise the risk for certain cancers. These include cancers of the liver, esophagus, throat and larynx. Chronic harmful drinking can cause liver disease, problems with the immune system and brain damage. Harmful drinking means having more than 1 drink a day for most nonpregnant women and men over 65, or more than 3 drinks in a row, or more than 7 drinks in a week. For most men, harmful drinking is more than 2 drinks a day, more than 4 drinks in a row, or more than 14 drinks in a week. A person who is a harmful drinker has health or personal problems caused by drinking. This person, though, may not have alcohol dependence.
Binge drinking is another kind of harmful drinking. It means having five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more drinks for women. A person who binge drinks may not have alcohol dependence.
Drinking raises the risk for death from car crashes. People who drink may be injured during leisure time or on the job. A pregnant woman who drinks can harm her fetus. Homicides and suicides are more likely among people who have been drinking.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse means drinking too much on purpose. Alcohol abuse does not include a strong craving for alcohol. It does not include a loss of control over drinking or being dependent on alcohol.
Not everyone who abuses alcohol becomes an alcoholic. Alcohol abuse includes one or more of these:
- You can't finish a major project at work, school or home because of drinking.
- You drink while driving or running a machine.
- You have legal problems because of your drinking. An example is getting arrested for driving while drunk. Another example is hurting someone while you are drunk.
- You choose to drink even though you have personal problems made worse by your drinking.
If alcohol abuse does not stop it can progress to alcohol dependence.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It is a medical disease. If you have at least three of these symptoms, you may have alcoholism:
- You have a strong craving, hunger, or need for alcohol.
- You cannot limit or control your drinking, or are unable to stop drinking any time you choose.
- You often make excuses or blame problems with your behavior or relationships on other things when they are really because of your alcohol use.
- When you stop drinking after a period of heavy use, you have nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety. These are called withdrawal symptoms.
- You need to drink more and more alcohol to feel the same "high."
The Decision to Get Help
Many people with problems caused by alcohol find it difficult to admit they need help. The sooner you get help, the better your chances of recovery. Any recovery program includes giving up alcohol entirely. Cutting back on your drinking doesn't work. You must quit. Recovery from alcohol dependence means a life-long commitment to avoid alcohol. This has many rewards, including regaining your health, your relationships, and your self-esteem.
Your health care provider can help you. Your provider will ask you questions about your drinking. Try to answer these questions as fully and honestly as you can. Your provider will also give you a physical exam. If your provider concludes that you may be dependent on alcohol, he or she may recommend that you see a specialist in treating alcoholism. Ask questions about any treatment choices and make sure you understand them.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
Your health care provider may decide that you are not dependent on alcohol. You may still have a problem with abusing alcohol. Your provider can help you:
- Think about why you should stop abusing alcohol.
- Set a drinking goal. You may decide to quit drinking. You may decide to limit how much you drink.
- Think about why you abuse alcohol. You can find new ways to handle situations that make you want to drink.
Your treatment depends on how severe your alcohol problem is. It also depends on what treatments are available where you live. You may need detoxification. This is a safe way of getting the alcohol out of your body. Your health care provider may give you a prescription that will help keep you from taking up drinking again. Examples of medication include disulfiram (Antabuse®), naltrexone (ReVia™ or Vivitrol®) and acamprosate (Campral®). You may need to see a counselor. A counselor can help you figure out things to do that don't remind you of drinking.
Your spouse or family also may need to see a counselor to help you recover. Your treatment program may help you find a lawyer, a job training program, child care or a parenting class if you need it.
About CAGE: The CAGE questionnaire was developed by Dr. John Ewing, founding director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. CAGE is an internationally used assessment instrument for identifying problems with alcohol.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional health care. Always consult with a health care provider for advice concerning your health. Only your health care provider can determine if you have a problem with alcohol use.