If your drug or alcohol use causes significant impairment or distress, you may have a substance use disorder (SUD). Diagnosis usually involves an examination by a psychiatrist, psychologist or a drug counselor, and the most commonly used guidelines can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Parameters for the diagnosis of a SUD require impairment or distress from your pattern of abuse, and the appearance of at least two of the symptoms listed below, for over a year; using more of a substance than planned, or using a substance for a longer interval than desired; inability to cut down despite a desire to do so; spending a substantial portion of the day obtaining, using, or recovering from your substance use; cravings or intense urges to use; repeated usage contributing to an inability to meet important obligations. 

Does your usage continue despite your knowledge that it’s causing frequent problems at work, school, or at home? Are you withdrawing from important social, professional, or recreational activities because of your drug use? Are you using in dangerous situations, or is your drug use causing you physical or mental harm? 

SUDs can vary widely in severity, and there are numerous methods to measure the severity of your SUD. If you meet only two or three of the DSM-5’s criteria, you are thought to have mild SUD; if you meet four or five criteria, you may have your SUD described as moderate, and if you meet six or more criteria, your addiction qualifies as severe. In the DSM-5, the term drug “addiction” is synonymous with severe substance use disorder. 

The quantity of criteria met offers a rough gauge on the severity of addiction, but a licensed professional will also take into account certain behavioral patterns, frequency of use over time, and assess for substance-specific consequences, such as the incidence of blackouts, or arrests for driving under the influence. 

There are additional qualifiers for stages of remission that are based on the amount of time an individual with a diagnosis of a SUD has not met any of the 11 criteria (except craving).

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