DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please forward to me any and all information you have on alcoholism, or where I can get such information. – C.

Books on alcoholism fill many shelves in all libraries. I can give you a brief summary at most. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a great source for information. Its Web site is

If you don’t have a computer, the local library does, and the people there are willing to show you how to use it. While you’re there, wander over to the library’s collection of books on the subject.

Alcoholism is defined in many ways. Some define it by the number of drinks taken in a week – 14 for a man and seven for a woman. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of whiskey. Others use different quantities for the definition of alcoholism.

It can also be defined by the way drinking affects a person’s life. If drinkers have repeated run-ins with family or at work, if they have given up other activities in favor of drinking, if their drinking has led to consequences like drunken-driving charges or traffic accidents, then a case is made for alcoholism.

Another sign of alcoholism is withdrawal symptoms when a person has not had a drink in 10 or 12 hours. Symptoms include trembling hands, agitation, anxiety, increased heart rate or insomnia.

A short questionnaire, the CAGE test, provides solid evidence for alcoholism. Its four questions are:

Have you ever felt you should CUT down on your drinking?

Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking?

Have you ever felt GUILTY about your drinking?

Have you ever had an EYE-opener (a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover)?

Two yeses make one a likely suspect for alcoholism.

Most people aren’t able to overcome alcohol addiction on their own. They need a trained professional, or they need a group like Alcoholics Anonymous.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 61 years old, one of those people whose birthday age isn’t their physical age. I was put on Citrucel to control loose bowels. It worked. Milk has always been my drink of choice, and now I drink fat-free milk for its calcium. Yesterday I saw a doctor who was new to me and had blood work done. The doctor says my potassium is elevated, and it could be due to the calcium I take. She wants me to cut back on milk and the Citrucel. What is going on? – M.F.

Frankly, I don’t know of the relationship between calcium and elevated blood potassium. Go along with the doctor’s advice and see what happens to your potassium. I don’t think it will budge.

Citrucel is methylcellulose. I can’t find that it does anything to potassium either. Perhaps the new doctor thought you said Citracal, not Citrucel. Citracal contains calcium and vitamin D.

How high was your potassium? Normal numbers are between 3.5 and 5. A small rise causes no trouble and can be due to a number of mostly unimportant things.

The booklet on potassium and sodium explains the importance of these substances, called electrolytes. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 202, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a friend who conducts a near-fanatical campaign against saccharin. She believes that anyone who uses it is bound to come down with cancer. Is there any truth to this? I have asked her many times where she got her information, and she says “the Internet.” – R.E.

None that I know of. In the 1970s, there was a study that showed that rats given very high amounts of saccharin developed cancer, but such amounts don’t come close to the amount consumed by humans. There was also a study that claimed a bladder-cancer link to saccharin in men who were heavy cigarette smokers. Cigarette smokers, however, have a high rate of bladder cancer, so this study was not informative.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My head shakes. Is that Parkinson’s disease? – R.C.

The head almost never shakes in Parkinson’s. More likely it is a condition called familial tremor. Medicines such as Mysoline and Inderal can usually control the shaking.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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