Drug and Substance Use

Diagnosis & Tests

If a healthcare provider suspects that you are misusing alcohol or medications, he or she will first confirm that you are dependent on a harmful substance by:

  • asking you questions
  • reviewing your prescriptions for commonly abused drugs or medicines
  • doing a physical exam
  • ordering blood and urine tests

The CAGE questionnaire is often used by healthcare providers to establish whether you have a drinking problem. It has four questions:

  • Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt Annoyed by criticism about your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt Guilty or bad about drinking?
  • Have you ever felt the need for a drink (an "Eye-opener") in the morning to steady your nerves?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions indicates that you may have a problem with alcohol.  Talk with your healthcare provider. Healthcare professionals often hesitate to ask about alcohol or drug use, so your situation may remain hidden unless you or a caregiver report that you are having a problem with alcohol or drugs. 

Many older people avoid telling their healthcare provider that they are unable to control their use of alcohol or certain medications. Your healthcare provider can help!

If you are going to have elective surgery, talking with your healthcare provider about alcohol use is even more urgent because alcohol abuse increases the risk of delirium after surgery. You might also experience alcohol withdrawal during an unexpected hospital stay if you have been drinking regularly and no longer have access to alcohol in the hospital.


Last Updated July 2020

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