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How are Addictions Diagnosed and When to Seek Help

How are Addictions Diagnosed and When to Seek Help

Mental health awareness has entered the spotlight in healthcare in recent years—and for good reason. Unlike physical illnesses, mental health disorders and illnesses do not always have clear signs and symptoms. As a result, conditions such as addiction can be silent but deadly. Due to the complicated nature of mental health issues, diagnosis and treatment by a licensed expert are a must. How are addictions diagnosed? Learn more about it in this article.

When is Something an Addiction? Know the Warning Signs

How are addictions diagnosed?

Mental health professionals are responsible for diagnosing addictions. First, a doctor will need to do a complete assessment. The assessment will include both a physical exam and psych evaluation.

The criteria used by mental health specialists comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction occurs if there are two or more of the following criteria within a 12-month period. Insert the name of the substance (e.g. alcohol) or behavior (e.g. social media) of the addiction below:

  1. __________ is taken in larger amounts or longer periods than intended.
  2. You attempt to stop or reduce using or doing __________, but fail.
  3. Much time is spent to get, access, use, and recover from using __________.
  4. You crave to use __________.
  5. Continued use of __________ results in failure to fulfill responsibilities and obligations.
  6. Use of __________ is causing relationship problems.
  7. You give up or skip social, work, or recreational activities to use/do __________.
  8. Use of __________ in inappropriate or potentially dangerous situations (e.g. driving).
  9. Continuing to use/do __________ despite knowing that it has an impact on your health.
  10. Tolerance to __________ has occurred, causing you to use/do it more or for longer periods.
  11. You experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop or reduce your use of __________.

Symptoms of addiction and SUD have 4 categories: impaired control, social problems, risky use, and physical dependence. The severity can also be mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild SUD is when a patient fits 2 to 3 of the criteria, while moderate is 4 to 5 of the criteria. Severe fits 6 or more. As a result, an addiction is a severe SUD.

If someone has less than 2 symptoms, they may be considered at-risk. This is especially true if they have personal history or family history of SUD.

When to seek help

In many cases, someone with an addiction is not aware that they have one. If you are a friend or family member of someone who may have an addiction, do not despair as there are ways to help.

Acknowledging the problem is the first step, but avoid self-diagnosis. If you are uncomfortable with how a substance or behavior is affecting your life, there is no harm getting a check up. If you suspect that you have an addiction, talk to someone you trust. Seek help from mental health specialists such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor who have a Master’s degree, or work experience on evaluating individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.

There are many available options for addiction support. If you are unable to physically go to a clinic or office, you can call hotlines or have online consultations. These are often free and completely anonymous. These professionals know how to diagnose addiction and provide support with sincerity.

Is addiction curable?

With medical illnesses like an infection or wound, treatment centers focus on medications and rest. These illnesses have clear signs and symptoms and lab results which makes diagnosis and treatment straightforward.

Unfortunately, addictions are not the same as infections. Addiction is similar to conditions such as diabetes and hypertension in that they are chronic and progressive. We can manage and control these conditions.

Because mental health conditions are complex, treatment may be lifelong for certain patients. Despite successful treatment, there is always a chance that it can return or relapse. Instead of medications, the core of addiction treatment involves counseling and rehab. In case withdrawal symptoms occur, a doctor can prescribe medication.

Benefits of Therapy That You Might Not Know About

Key takeaway

How are addictions diagnosed? Doctors diagnose addictions using DSM-5 criteria. Additionally, mental health professionals take a complete medical history. These are helpful in understanding the underlying causes of addiction.

If you feel that you or someone you know fits the criteria, it is best to talk to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. The criteria provided here only serves as a guide and is not for self-diagnosing.

Learn more about Addiction here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


What is a substance use disorder? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction Accessed January 16, 2021

How to identify substance use disorder & addiction https://drugfree.org/article/how-to-identify-substance-use-disorder-addiction/ Accessed January 16, 2021

Dealing with addiction https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/addictions.html Accessed January 16, 2021

Treatment https://www.addictioncenter.com/treatment/ Accessed January 16, 2021

DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified https://www.addictionpolicy.org/post/dsm-5-facts-and-figures Accessed January 16, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated May 26