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Alcohol Screening for Alcohol Use Disorder

AUD can lead to numerous health problems, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, neurological disorders, increased risk of cancer, and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Navigation: What is Alcohol Screening and How Can it Help Patients With Alcohol Use Disorder, Benefits of Alcohol Screening for Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder, NIAAA and Other Agencies Encourage Use of Alcohol Screening, Supporting a Loved One with Alcohol Use Disorder, Reducing Your Alcohol Consumption, How Does Rehab Fight Alcohol Use Disorder?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the US. It is estimated to be responsible for approximately 95,000 deaths each year, including deaths from liver disease, alcohol poisoning, accidents, and other alcohol-related health conditions. And sadly, many people are still struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 14.5 million adults aged 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2019. This represents about 5.8% of this age group. It also includes 9.8 million men and 4.7 million women.

It goes without saying that alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, is still a serious problem in the US. AUD is a chronic condition characterized by an inability to control or stop drinking even when the person is already experiencing the consequences. Just like other forms of substance use disorder, it can have severe physical, psychological, and social effects.

AUD can lead to numerous health problems, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, neurological disorders, increased risk of cancer, and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Beyond that, it can also affect the addicted person’s loved ones. Alcoholism can strain relationships, lead to family problems, cause financial difficulties, and contribute to accidents and injuries, including motor vehicle accidents.

Alcoholism even has an effect on society and the economy. AUD costs the US billions of dollars each year in healthcare expenses, lost productivity, and criminal justice system involvement, among other costs.

Addressing AUD requires a comprehensive approach involving prevention, early intervention, and access to effective treatment options.

Researchers have established that alcohol screening and brief intervention can contribute significantly in the fight against AUD. Alcohol screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) may be able to close the AUD treatment gap.

Alcohol screening is a collection of practices that can be used by providers to prevent or reduce alcohol abuse among their patients. This includes asking primary care patients about their alcohol abuse, giving them advice on how to reduce their unhealthy alcohol use, and giving them referrals to appropriate treatment programs if necessary.

Patients do not typically object to being screened. In fact, researchers have found that most of them are open to hearing advice on how to reduce their alcohol intake. After screening, patients who are positive for alcohol use disorder show willingness to change their habits.

Here we will discuss alcohol screening and its role in the fight against alcohol use disorder and substance abuse.


What is Alcohol Screening and How Can it Help Patients With Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol screening is a process used to identify individuals who may have alcohol-related problems or be at risk for developing alcohol use disorder. It involves the use of standardized assessments or questionnaires to gather information about a person’s drinking habits, behaviors, and related consequences.

The primary goal of alcohol screening is to identify those who may require further evaluation, intervention, or treatment for AUD. This is usually conducted in healthcare settings, including primary care clinics, emergency departments, and specialized addiction treatment centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promotes the use of screening tools to identify individuals with alcohol problems and provide appropriate interventions. Healthcare professionals can play a vital role in recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and providing support and treatment options.

Alcohol screening tools commonly used include the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the CAGE questionnaire, and the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST). These tools assess factors such as the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, negative consequences of drinking, and dependence symptoms.

Once a patient is identified as having an alcohol problem through screening, appropriate interventions can be initiated. The interventions may range from brief advice and counseling to more intensive treatments, such as behavioral counseling interventions, depending on the severity of the alcohol-related issues.


Benefits of Alcohol Screening for Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder

There are many ways alcohol screening can help patients with AUD. For starters, screening allows health professionals to identify alcohol-related problems at an early stage, even before the development of severe consequences. Early identification improves the chances of successful intervention and treatment.

Screening also helps healthcare providers understand the specific needs and severity of alcohol-related problems in individual patients. With this information, they can develop personalized treatment plans that address the patient’s unique circumstances.

Patients can also get some feedback through brief interventions about their alcohol use patterns, their health risks, and other potential consequences. Even with little bits of advice, they may be encouraged to drink alcohol responsibly. This feedback can help motivate them to consider changing their drinking behaviors and seek further assistance.

For pregnant women, alcohol screening is an important aspect of prenatal care. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can have serious negative effects on the developing fetus and lead to a range of physical, behavioral, and cognitive issues known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Healthcare professionals typically conduct alcohol screening as a routine part of prenatal care to identify pregnant women who may be at risk of alcohol use or have already consumed alcohol.

If a pregnant woman’s screening indicates potential alcohol use, healthcare providers may engage in further assessment or provide counseling and education about the risks associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.

For individuals with AUD, alcohol screening also helps determine the appropriate level of care needed. Healthcare professionals can provide referrals to specialized addiction treatment services, as well as counseling, support groups, and other resources based on the severity of the patient’s condition.

Over time, alcohol screening can be repeated in order to monitor a patient’s progress during treatment. This allows healthcare providers to assess the effectiveness of interventions and make adjustments as needed.

So overall we can say that alcohol screening plays a crucial role in identifying individuals with alcohol-related problems and facilitating appropriate interventions. By identifying AUD early and providing tailored care, it can significantly improve the outcomes for patients seeking help for alcohol misuse.

NIAAA and Other Agencies Encourage Use of Alcohol Screening

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director George F. Koob, Ph.D said: “Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. reach criteria for AUD, but less than 1 in 10 receive treatment of any kind each year. These statistics emphasize the importance of widespread implementation of and access to alcohol SBIRT across health care and community settings.”

Healthcare providers can find all the tools they need to conduct alcohol SBIRT on their patients in the Healthcare Professional’s Core Resource on Alcohol (HPCR), which was released in 2022. This provides helpful info for addressing alcohol consumption among patients, including how to use alcohol SBIRT.

The HPCR also encourages healthcare providers to use the Alcohol Symptom Checklist routinely to help destigmatize AUD while asking patients about their condition. This is a questionnaire that allows patients to self-report whether they have experienced the 11 criteria for AUD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) within the past year.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol screening should be a routine part of primary healthcare services. It is recommended that healthcare providers use validated screening tools to identify individuals who may be at risk for alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorders.

Similarly, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) also recommends alcohol screening and brief counseling interventions for adults aged 18 years or older. The USPSTF assigns a grade to each recommendation to indicate the strength of the evidence and the balance of benefits and harms. For alcohol screening and brief counseling, the USPSTF has assigned a grade of “B,” which means there is high certainty that the net benefit of the service is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial.

Supporting a Loved One with Alcohol Use Disorder

Healthcare providers can do their part in order to fight alcohol use disorder. At the same time, you can also combat AUD within your family or your community by using certain strategies.

While supporting a loved one with alcohol use disorder can be challenging, it is also crucial for their recovery and well-being. If you want to help them, you need to educate yourself first and foremost.

Learn about alcohol use disorder, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Understanding the condition will help you approach the situation with empathy and knowledge. Sometimes we have our own biases and preconceived notions about alcoholism, and this is due to the stigma surrounding the condition.

A lot of people with AUD do not seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding addiction and rehab. But having an alcohol use disorder is not a sign of weakness, nor is it a moral failure. By doing your research, you can gain a better understanding of your loved one’s situation, and provide the appropriate level of support.

Encourage open communication. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for your loved one to talk about their struggles with alcohol. Encourage them to express their feelings, concerns, and fears without fear of criticism.

Let your loved one know that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being. Share your observations about their drinking habits and express your love and support.

At the same time, you should also know where to draw the line so that you don’t enable your loved one’s behaviors. While it’s important to support your loved one, it’s equally crucial not to enable their drinking behavior. This means not making excuses for their actions, covering up for them, or providing them with alcohol. Enablement can hinder their desire to seek help.

Encourage them to seek professional help. Even with our best intentions, there is only so much we can do without proper medical support. Suggest that your loved one seeks professional help. If they are resistant to the idea, you may have to organize an intervention.

Hire a professional interventionist to organize the meeting with friends and family members who want to do their part in guiding the individual towards treatment. During the intervention, you can present them with a treatment option that the intervention team has selected prior to the meeting based on the patient’s condition.

Be patient and understanding. Recovery from alcohol use disorder is a complex process that takes time. Be patient with your loved one’s progress, setbacks, and relapses. Encourage them to keep going and remind them that setbacks are a normal part of the recovery journey.

If they are already going through addiction treatment, offer practical support. Help your loved one in practical ways, such as providing transportation to therapy sessions or support group meetings, assisting with household tasks, or helping them find healthy activities to engage in. These gestures can alleviate some of the stressors they may face during recovery.

Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Supporting someone with alcohol use disorder can be emotionally draining. Make sure to take care of your own physical and mental well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or support groups for yourself as you navigate this journey alongside your loved one.

Keep in mind that every individual’s journey is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Be flexible and adaptable in your approach, and always encourage your loved one to seek professional guidance for personalized treatment and support.

Reducing Your Alcohol Consumption

If you are the one with an alcohol use disorder, there are certain ways to help yourself during the recovery process. Every positive step towards maintaining your sobriety helps. Here are some strategies and tips to help you in your journey:

Set clear goals: Determine why you want to reduce your alcohol consumption and set specific and achievable goals. This could be cutting back on the number of days you drink in a week or reducing the amount of alcohol you consume on each occasion.

Track your drinking: Keep a record of how much and how often you drink. This can help you become more aware of your habits and identify patterns that may be problematic. There are also mobile apps available that can assist you in tracking your alcohol consumption.

Find alternatives: Discover enjoyable alternatives to drinking alcohol. Look for non-alcoholic beverages that you enjoy, such as flavored water, herbal tea, or mocktails. Having appealing alternatives can make it easier to resist the urge to drink.

Change your environment: If certain situations or environments trigger your desire to drink, try to avoid them or modify them. For example, if you tend to drink when socializing with certain friends, suggest alternative activities that don’t involve alcohol or spend time with friends who support your goal of reducing alcohol consumption.

Seek support: Let your friends and family know about your decision to cut back on alcohol, as they can provide support and understanding. Consider joining support groups or seeking professional help if you’re finding it challenging to reduce your consumption on your own.

Develop new habits: Engage in activities that don’t revolve around alcohol. Find hobbies, exercise regularly, or take up new interests that keep you occupied and help fill the void that alcohol may have left.

Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations when you have the urge to drink. Recognize triggers and try to find healthier ways to cope with them, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in enjoyable activities that bring you relaxation.

Set boundaries: Establish limits for yourself and stick to them. Decide in advance how many drinks you’re comfortable having and make a plan to avoid exceeding that limit.

Educate yourself: Learn about the potential health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Understanding the long-term effects can serve as motivation to cut back and make healthier choices.

Celebrate milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way. Rewarding yourself for reaching milestones can help reinforce positive behavior and keep you motivated.

Reducing your alcohol consumption is a personal journey and it’s important to be patient with yourself. If you’re finding it difficult or feel like you need additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to healthcare professionals or support groups specializing in alcohol addiction.

How Does Rehab Fight Alcohol Use Disorder?

We all know rehab programs play an important role in combating AUD, but how exactly do these programs help? Rehabs offer addiction treatment programs that provide comprehensive support and care.

For example, they can provide medical detox for those with severe alcohol use disorder. In these severe cases, the patient’s alcohol intake cannot be reduced without them going into withdrawal. A medical detox program is medically supervised so that their intake can be lowered gradually while healthcare providers manage their symptoms.

Rehab facilities have medical professionals who can monitor and alleviate withdrawal symptoms while ensuring the patient’s safety. This is done in a safe and comfortable environment where the patient can focus on their recovery.

Rehabilitation centers assess each individual’s unique needs through alcohol screening. This allows them to develop personalized treatment plans.

These plans take into account the severity of the addiction, physical and mental health status, and any co-occurring disorders. Customized treatment helps address the specific challenges and triggers that contribute to the individual’s alcohol use.

Rehabs also offer therapeutic interventions. It’s not enough to just lower the patient’s alcohol intake. They also need to address the root causes of their drinking problem. Rehab programs employ various evidence-based therapeutic approaches to address the psychological and behavioral aspects of AUD. These may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, contingency management, and family therapy.

Therapy sessions help individuals identify and modify unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and patterns associated with alcohol use. Patients can learn healthy coping mechanisms that they can use outside of rehab so they can stay sober for the long term.

Some rehab facilities even provide educational programs to enhance the individual’s understanding of alcoholism and its consequences. They offer resources and tools to develop stress management skills and healthier ways to deal with cravings and triggers. Learning about the effects of alcohol on the body and mind can motivate individuals to make positive changes.

In a rehab setting, individuals can connect with others who are going through similar struggles with AUD. Group therapy sessions and support groups foster a sense of community and provide a non-judgmental space for sharing experiences and gaining support from peers who understand the challenges of addiction. Peer support can be instrumental in maintaining sobriety after leaving rehab.

Finally, rehab centers also provide aftercare planning. A successful rehab program includes aftercare planning to ensure a smooth transition back into daily life. This may involve outpatient counseling, continued therapy, participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), relapse prevention strategies, and access to community resources. Aftercare aims to provide ongoing support and prevent relapse.

Successful long-term recovery often involves a combination of therapies, support systems, lifestyle changes, and ongoing commitment to sobriety. Look for a rehab center near you today to learn more about the treatment process for alcohol use disorder.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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