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Alcohol Screening Test – Definition, Types, and Benefits

18 October, 2023

A health professional explaining to a patient

Alcohol screening tests are questionnaires to determine if a person has Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The common screening tests are AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test), CAGE (Cut down, Annoyed, Guilty, Eye-Opener), and MAST (Michigan Alcohol Screening Test). These tests help identify drinking patterns or if a person is at risk. It can help clinicians diagnose the severity of the problem and offer early intervention or formulate a treatment plan.

The abuse of alcohol poses many risks to health and safety. In the short term, it can severely impair judgment, perception, and coordination. This can negatively affect the ability to work safely and efficiently. In the long term, it can lead to permanent organ damage and chronic illnesses. Thus, many organisations implement screening tests to mitigate these risks. In this article, we will explore the purpose of alcohol screen questionnaires, the different types, and their benefits.

What is an Alcohol Screening Test

An alcohol screening test is a tool used to assess an individual’s alcohol consumption and determine if they have a drinking problem. It is typically a questionnaire that asks a series about a person’s alcohol usage patterns and the psychological and behavioural effects of alcohol. The purpose of this test is to determine if a person’s consumption has reached a problematic level.

Another purpose of the test is to identify individuals who may be at risk for developing alcohol-related problems. They are often used in medical settings, such as primary care clinics or hospitals, and are administered by healthcare professionals. They can also be self-administered or taken online. Schools and workplaces may also use these tools for students and employees.

AUD or alcohol abuse is a condition where an individual has difficulty controlling alcohol consumption despite its negative consequences. Over time, this can affect physical and mental health, relationships, finances, and job security. Therefore, it is important to identify and intervene early if someone is at risk of developing AUD.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol. It includes needing to drink more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations due to alcohol consumption
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability, and tremors when not drinking.
  • Drinking in risky situations, including driving or operating machinery.
  • Binge drinking, or the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.
  • A strong urge to drink alcohol all the time.
  • Physical changes, such as redness in the face, increased weight, slurred speech, and unkempt appearance.
  • Making unsuccessful attempts to cut down or quit alcohol use.
  • Feeling sick from the aftereffects of alcohol.

Coworkers talking to a problematic employee

Types of Alcohol Screening Tests

There are different types of alcohol screening tests to help determine if a person has a problematic relationship with alcohol. The standard tests are AUDIT, AUDIT-C, CAGE, and MAST. The AUDIT contains multiple-choice questions regarding the frequency and amount of alcohol intake. The AUDIT-C is a shortened version of AUDIT, containing only three multiple-choice questions.

Another type is CAGE. It is a series of four questions to check for signs of alcohol dependency. Each letter represents a specific question (cut-down, annoyed, guilty, eye-opener) and is answerable by yes or no. Furthermore, the CAGE-AID version is adapted to include dependency on illicit or recreational drugs. Generally, two or three yes answers suggest heavy drinking.

The MAST is one of the oldest and most accurate screening tools to identify alcohol-dependent drinkers. Clinicians or individuals may administer the test themselves to assess harmful drinking patterns. The questions also include risks and issues resulting from alcohol use. Overall, the alcohol use screening tests evaluate the level of severity of a person’s alcohol consumption. The higher the score, the more likely it is to have an alcohol addiction.

Using a Breathalyser as a Supplement

Healthcare providers also utilise a breathalyser to supplement alcohol screening questions. A breathalyser is a portable device that detects and estimates the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). A breath test is non-invasive, involving blowing to the device for an analysis of the breath sample.

A breathalyser can detect alcohol in the breath sample, indicating consumption in the past several hours. It can usually trace alcohol for up to 12 to 24 hours from the last intake, depending on the number of standard drinks consumed. In addition, the device can give the results within seconds, providing real-time on the blood alcohol levels.

Employees looking happy in a meeting

Benefits of Alcohol Screening Tests

Alcohol screening tests provide several benefits in various settings. Firstly, it helps identify and address alcohol-related problems. Health professionals can determine people at risk of AUD. Through early detection, they can offer the necessary intervention and treatment plans. Therefore, this can help prevent further harm and improve the individual’s overall well-being.

Secondly, the brief interventions show significant reductions in alcohol use. Individuals may receive treatment assistance from healthcare institutions or workplaces. Thus, it helps them control their alcohol-drinking behaviour before it escalates. It also minimises the likelihood of developing health risks like liver disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions.

Finally, alcohol tests can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment programs. If healthcare providers observe a decrease in the test scores after treatment, they know that their intervention is taking effect. This also helps them adjust the treatment plan if necessary or progress to the next step in achieving sobriety. Ultimately, it can aid in full recovery and improve well-being. This leads to a safer home or work environment.

Potential Treatment for Recovery

Alcohol screening tools offer potential treatment for recovery from alcohol abuse. One common approach is therapy. It involves counselling sessions where the individual can explore the underlying causes and triggers of their drinking patterns. This can help patients develop coping mechanisms to deal with cravings and temptations.

Another effective treatment is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This utilises medications to help reduce cravings and prevent relapse. These medications work by blocking the effects of alcohol or diminishing the pleasurable sensations associated with drinking. It is important to note that MAT should be under professional guidance. MAT and therapy sessions can provide a comprehensive approach to recovery.

Conclusion

Alcohol screening tests are essential tools to help individuals and health professionals identify harmful alcohol consumption. This can also help evaluate the level of severity of alcohol abuse. Through the use of the test, clinicians can provide early interventions before they lead to severe consequences. Additionally, the test can be self-administered for individuals who want to monitor their alcohol usage. Therefore, it helps lead to a healthier lifestyle and a safer environment.

Moreover, the test can help provide an effective approach to recovery using various strategies. For example, using a breathalyser can be a helpful supplementary tool in monitoring sobriety. Furthermore, there are several treatments that can help a person recover from AUD. Health professionals ensure patients get tailored help to suit their needs and conditions. This includes therapy sessions and MAT. It helps minimise the risk of alcohol-related diseases. Ultimately, this can help on the path to recovery.

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