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Dr. Fernstrom: Are you drinking too much? Take this simple test to find out

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says 15.1 million adults in the U.S. have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), including 5.3 million women.
Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor.
Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News' health editor.Miller Hawkins

Alcohol consumption is a tricky field to navigate when it comes to figuring out what’s “too much.” That’s because drinking problems develop gradually and can sneak up on you.

There’s now a medical classification for “problem drinking” called AUD (alcohol use disorder). And the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates about 15.1 million adults in the U.S. have AUD. This includes about 5.3 million women. Sadly, only around 10 percent receive any treatment.

If you’re concerned with your own alcohol consumption, a simple self-assessment test called CAGE can help you. Developed in 1970 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by Dr. John Ewing (the founding director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies), it’s a widely-used tool by physicians, licensed health professionals and individuals to help recognize and address alcohol addiction.

Take the test (answer yes or no):

C - Have you ever felt you should CUT DOWN on your drinking?

A - Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking?

G - Have you ever felt bad or GUILTY about your drinking?

E - EYE OPENER: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves

or to get rid of a hangover?

While the results of this test alone are not a confirmation or official diagnosis of a severe alcohol problem, its reliability comes from the recognition of four key areas predicting drinking problems. While answering “yes” at least two times suggests a significant alcohol problem requiring further evaluation, even one “yes” answer should be taken seriously.

Early intervention is key. Start with a visit to your primary care doctor for an open and honest discussion. Treatments can include behavioral therapies, mutual support groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous) and medications. Importantly, medications support — but never replace — behavioral and support programs. In-patient programs are also available that provide all three treatment modalities.

So what’s considered “moderate” alcohol intake? National guidelines indicate one serving per day for women and two for men – with a serving being a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. And remember, moderate drinking should never leave you with a hangover.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.