Health Library

Diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

It may not be easy for anyone to accept the fact they need help for an alcohol problem. Keep in mind that the sooner help is sought, the better the chances for a successful recovery.

You may have concerns about discussing drinking-related problems with your doctor. This may stem from common misconceptions about alcoholism and people who have alcoholism. In our society, some people may perceive alcohol problems as a sign of moral weakness. As a result, you may feel that to seek help is to admit some type of shameful defect in yourself. However, taking steps to identify a possible drinking problem has an enormous payoff: a chance for a healthier, more rewarding life.

A diagnosis of AUD is often based on an initial assessment, physical examination, and psychological evaluation.


Your doctor will ask you a number of questions about your alcohol use to determine whether you are having problems related to your drinking. Try to answer these questions as fully and honestly as you can. The doctor may ask about:

  • Drinking more or over a longer period of time than intended.
  • Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking.
  • Unusual amount of time is spent to attain, use, or recover from alcohol.
  • Craving or strong desire to use alcohol.
  • Drinking that results in failure to attend to school, work, or home responsibilities.
  • Continued drinking despite persistent work or social problems.
  • Giving up or reducing time spent on normal activities because of alcohol use.
  • Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations.
  • Continued use despite having recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by drinking.
  • Building up a tolerance which results in more alcohol intake to feel intoxicated or drinking the same amount and having little effect.
  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal when drinking is stopped or using alcohol to relieve withdrawal symptoms.

Physical Examination and Tests

A physical exam will look for any potential signs of AUD. This can include skin blemishes, tremors, involuntary eye movements, or abnormal muscle tone.

Tests may also be done to:

  • Measure the size of red blood cells
  • Look for anemia or vitamin deficiencies
  • Evaluate liver and kidney function
  • Look for liver and kidney disease and damage

Psychological Evaluation

Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar and social anxiety disorders often occur with AUD. It is important to identify these factors when developing a treatment plan. Your doctor may advise a psychiatric evaluation with a mental health professional.


Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated October 23, 2015. Accessed September 30, 2016.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2016.

Alcoholism. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online website. Available at: Updated April 9, 2013. Accessed April 9, 2015.

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Help Guide website. Available at: Updated February 2015. Accessed April 9, 2015.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Shivani R, Goldsmith RJ, et al. Alcoholism and psychiatric disorders: Diagnostic challenges. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: Accessed April 9, 2015.