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Diagnosing Teen Alcoholism

Teen boy drinking a bottle of liqour

Under their apparent invincible and devil-may-care exterior, teenagers can be surprisingly perceptive and introspective about their lives. For example, while teens may consume alcohol and/or get drunk from time to time, they are not usually unaware of the potential for dependence or addiction.

Sometimes, it just takes a specific event (like a classmate being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning), a sudden realization (like remembering that their father was once an alcoholic), or a confession from a friend (who might say they think about drinking all the time) to get adolescents to ask themselves, “Am I an alcoholic?”

Let’s Go to the CAGE

One of the most widely-used screening measures designed to answer that question has been around for almost a half-century. Back in 1970, Dr. John A. Ewing created what is now known as the CAGE questionnaire, which today is included in the assessment of patients’ medical histories when they first visit a physician, hospital, or other healthcare facility.

The CAGE questionnaire is so named because it is an acronym for the four questions to be answered by the patient, which are:

  1. Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (i.e., an Eye opener)?

If the patient answers yes to two or more questions, then he or she is more likely to be suffering from alcoholism.

What Do Psychologists Say?

A more intensive survey to identify alcoholism comes from the American Psychological Association. In the group’s most recent edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as DSM-5), the APA provides 11 questions for health care providers to ask patients to determine the presence and severity of alcoholism. The patient is asked whether he or she has, in the past year:

  1. Had times when they ended up drinking more or longer than intended?
  2. Wanted to cut down or stop drinking – or tried to, but could not – more than once?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking and/or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  4. Experienced a strong need, urge, or craving to drink?
  5. Found that drinking (or being sick from drinking) often interfered with taking care of their home/family, caused job troubles, or led to school-related problems?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with their family or friends?
  7. Given up/cut back on activities that were important, interesting, or pleasurable in order to drink?
  8. Gotten into situations while (or after) drinking that increased their chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, or having unsafe sex) more than once?
  9. Continued to drink even though it was making them feel depressed or anxious, exacerbating another health problem, or following a memory blackout?
  10. Had to drink much more than they once did to get the effect they want or found that their usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, they had withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?

According to DSM-5, mild alcohol use disorder (AUD) is present if two or three questions are answered yes. Four or five affirmative answers constitutes moderate AUD, while six or more indicates severe AUD.

A Drinking “Rule of Thumb”

However, some teens are looking for a simple, quantifiable answer as to whether they are alcoholics, preferably measured in terms of how much alcohol they consume. While every person’s body weight, tolerance levels, and drinking habits are different, a September 2017 article in Popular Science magazine offers this guideline:

For men – regularly consuming four or more drinks per day/night and/or consuming a maximum of fourteen drinks per week

For women – regularly consuming three or more drinks per day/night and/or consuming a maximum of seven drinks per week

Again, this is not a standard which is set in stone; an individual’s drinking behaviors and aftereffects also factor into the calculus. However, it does act as a useful warning level for teens who do exceed those quantities of booze consumption.

If You Answer “Yes,” Then Get Help

If you are a teenager who suspects that you may be an alcoholic, it is perfectly okay to ask for help. Talk to a parent, counselor, health care professional, or drug treatment expert to get a second opinion and consider what steps you may want to take going forward. Given the consequences of unchecked alcoholism on your body, life, and relationships, getting more information and assistance is a no-brainer.

For more information on our teen alcoholism treatment, contact us at Next Generation Village today to talk to one of our addiction specialists.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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