Substance Abuse and Dependence
Tools used in the diagnosis of substance dependence include screening questionnaires and patient histories, physical examination, and laboratory tests. A simple and popular screening tool is the CAGE questionnaire. CAGE refers to the first letters of each word that forms the basis of each of the four questions of the screening exam:
- have you ever tried to Cut down on your substance use?
- have you ever been Annoyed by people trying to talk to you about your substance use?
- do you ever feel Guilty about your substance use?
- do you ever need an Eye opener (use of the substance first thing in the morning) in order to start your day?
A "yes" answer to two or more of these questions is an indication that the individual should be referred for more thorough work-up for substance dependency or abuse.
In addition to CAGE, other screening questionnaires are available. Some are designed for particular population groups such as pregnant women, and others are designed to more thoroughly assess the severity of substance dependence. These questionnaires, known by their acronyms, include AUDIT, HSS, HSQ, PRIME-MD, ACE, TWEAK, s-MAST, and SADD. There is some variability among questionnaires in terms of how accurately and comprehensively they can identify individuals as substance dependent.
Patient history, as taken through the direct interview, is important for identifying physical symptoms and psychiatric factors related to substance use. Family history of alcohol or other substance dependency is also useful for diagnosis.
A physical examination may reveal signs of substance abuse. These signs are specific to the substances used, as well as needle marks, tracks, or nasal erosion.
With the individual's permission, substance use can be detected through laboratory testing of his or her blood, urine, or hair. Laboratory testing, however, may be limited by the sensitivity and specificity of the testing method, and by the time elapsed since the person last used the drug.
One of the most difficult aspects of diagnosis involves overcoming the patient's denial. Denial is a psychological state during which a person is unable to acknowledge the (usually negative) circumstances of a