Last reviewed: 9 Nov 2021
Last updated: 12 Jun 2018



History and exam

Key diagnostic factors

  • presence of risk factors
  • withdrawal
  • tolerance
  • increased/decreased liver size, jaundice, ascites

Other diagnostic factors

  • nicotine dependence comorbidity
  • social, economic, legal, or psychological problems
  • nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, haematemesis
  • muscle cramps, pain, tenderness, altered sensory perception
  • hypertension and tachycardia
  • impaired nutritional status
  • cutaneous manifestations
  • alterations in normal dental hygiene
  • broad-based gait

Risk factors

  • family history of alcoholism
  • antisocial behaviour (pre-morbid)
  • high trait anxiety level
  • lack of facial flushing on exposure to alcohol
  • low responsivity to the effects of alcohol
  • history of gastric bypass

Diagnostic investigations

1st investigations to order

  • diagnostic interview
  • alcohol level (breath and blood)
  • Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol--revised (CIWA-Ar)

Investigations to consider

  • carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT)
  • gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (gamma-GT), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • FBC
  • urinary ethyl glucuronide

Treatment algorithm



Colin Drummond, MB ChB, MD, FRCP, FRCPsych, FFPH, FRCGP (Hon.)

Professor of Addiction Psychiatry

Addictions Department

National Addiction Centre

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience

King's College




CD declares that he has no conflicting interests.


Dr Colin Drummond would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Julie R. Pittman, Dr Philip H. Chung, Dr Robert M. Swift, and Dr Lorenzo Leggio, previous contributors to this topic. JRP, PHC, and RMS declare that they have no competing interests. LL is an author of a reference cited in this topic.

Peer reviewers

Paul S. Haber, MD

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Discipline of Medicine

University of Sydney




PSH is an author of a reference cited in this topic.

Roberta Agabio, MD

Bernard B. Brodie Department of Neuroscience

University of Cagliari




RA is an author of a number of references cited in this topic.

Use of this content is subject to our disclaimer