Understanding how substance use disorder (SUD) is diagnosed can help you understand where you are on the scale of addiction and help you recognize addiction in those around you.

While learning this information does not make you eligible to diagnose addiction on your own, you can use this information to recognize when there is a problem and take action when needed. Remember, the sooner treatment is sought, the more easily SUD can be treated.

DSM-5 Criteria

The DSM-5 is the most updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This version currently focuses on the criteria of abuse and dependence for diagnosing SUD.

Understanding the differing criteria for abuse and dependence can help you to recognize a problem before it reaches the level of SUD. The DSM-5 uses the following criteria to diagnose abuse and dependence related to substances.

Abuse Criteria

To be diagnosed with substance abuse, an individual needs to show one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Hazardous use
  • Social and interpersonal problems related to use
  • Neglecting major roles for the substance
  • Legal problems

Dependence Criteria

To be diagnosed with substance dependence, an individual needs to show three or more of the following characteristics:

  • Withdrawal
  • Tolerance
  • Using larger amounts for longer periods
  • Repeated attempts to quit or control the use
  • Much time spent using
  • Physical and/or psychological problems from use
  • Giving up normal activities to use

Substance Use Disorder Criteria

To diagnose SUD, the criteria listed above for both abuse and dependence are considered. The DSM-5 has added the feeling of cravings to this list of criteria.

An individual who displays two or more characteristics or behaviors from the full list of criteria can be considered to have SUD.

Obtaining an Official Diagnosis

To obtain an official diagnosis of addiction, also known as SUD, you will need to visit a psychiatrist, doctor, or another licensed mental health professional.

Through blood and urine samples, an individual can show physiological signs of SUD, but it cannot be diagnosed from that alone. Most of the criteria used to diagnose addiction require the individual, to be honest about the effect of the substance on their life. Discussing your current standpoint with a mental health professional can help you determine if you officially are dealing with SUD.

Interviewing Techniques

To determine which behaviors or characteristics apply, many doctors or psychiatrists require the patient, to be honest about their involvement with substance use.

Unfortunately, while the criteria to diagnose SUD is relatively simple, obtaining accurate information from someone who may be struggling with substance use can be challenging. Many individuals who struggle with SUD tend to downplay the severity of the effects of the substances, hindering their chances of being diagnosed.

Structured Clinical Interview for DSM

The structured clinical interview is a series of questions to determine the level of addiction within an individual. Looking at the following example, this text is used primarily to diagnose alcohol abuse disorder. Similar formation and questions are used for other substances to diagnose SUD. 

What are your drinking habits like?
?How much do you drink?
?Has there ever been a time in your life when you had five or more drinks on one occasion?
When in your life were you drinking the most?
?How long did that period last?
During that time…
?How often were you drinking?
?What were you drinking? How much?
During that time…
?Did your drinking cause problems for you?
?Did anyone object to your drinking?

From the answers to these specified questions, a mental health professional can determine a base point of the effects that alcohol or other substances are having on the patient’s everyday life. Obtaining an accurate understanding of the severity of the disorder is essential so that the individual can receive the treatment they need. Using the information gathered through these questions, the professional can make recommendations for treatment like detox, inpatient programs, and potentially even medication.

Diagnoses Regarding Different Substances

It is important to consider the substance involved in a potential addiction. The basic structure of questions can be used for each substance, but the unique effects that take part with each substance are important to consider.

If you are using multiple substances, you may not be addicted to all of them. There may be one that has reached the level of SUD while others have not. Being honest about your engagement with each substance you use can help you determine the current severity of each. Understanding this can help you avoid reaching a level of addiction and work toward recovery from the substances that are currently problematic.

Diagnosing addiction involves comparing one’s substance use against a variety of criteria that are essential to review. Meeting two or more of the DSM-5’s criteria for SUD means you are eligible to be diagnosed. Understanding the criteria that are involved in addiction can help you recognize the potential onset of addiction and catch the issue before it causes too much harm. Mental health professionals will often use different forms of tests and measurements based upon the structured clinical interview for the DSM to determine which criteria their clients meet. These steps to understanding how addiction is diagnosed can help you observe the substances you currently use and determine if you may be dealing with this disorder for one or more of them. To learn more about the steps to diagnose addiction or SUD, reach out to Dream Recovery at (949) 732-1960.

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