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How Is Substance Use Disorder Diagnosed?

If you or somebody you love has a problem with alcohol or drugs, you may wonder about the diagnosis of substance use disorder (SUD). Diagnosis involves a comprehensive assessment considering various factors, including behavioral patterns, physical symptoms, and mental health.

Typically, healthcare professionals, such as doctors, psychiatrists, or addiction specialists, play a role in the diagnosis process. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is sometimes used as a guideline for diagnosing mental health disorders, including SUD.

Most people who have a substance use disorder are aware that they have a problem but may spend time in denial or trying to hope it goes away. Because of this, interviews are crucial components of the diagnostic process. Sometimes,  a doctor trying to diagnose a patient will require a urinalysis to make sure that they know all the drugs a person uses. (Unfortunately, denying or minimizing drug use is also a symptom of SUD.) Some people will need help with detox and even medication to ease symptoms.

It is important to note that diagnosing SUD is a complex and nuanced process that requires a holistic understanding of an individual's lifestyle, substance use, and behavior patterns.

Once addiction professionals get a clear picture of a person's substance abuse, they can develop tailored treatment plans that may include behavioral therapies, medications, and support networks to help individuals overcome the challenges associated with substance misuse.

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

How do you know if you have a substance use disorder? There are a lot of things that you can observe about your own or a loved one’s problem with substance use.

These include:

  • Impaired Control: Being unable to limit how much you use a substance, unable to quit substance use, or having unsuccessful attempts to cut down. They may spend a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or “sleeping off” the effects of substance use, which also can become isolating.
  • Social Dysfunction: They may continue to use substances despite persistent social problems related to their effects. You may reduce activities with family, friends, or coworkers.
  • Risky Behavior: They may engage in unsafe behavior, such as driving under the influence or taking sexual risks that you would never take when sober. A person with SUD will continue to use despite knowing that their use has become harmful.
  • Increasing Substance Use: People usually become more focused on getting and using their substance of choice. They may develop a tolerance, requiring more of the substance to achieve the desired effect. When they try to quit, they may have withdrawal symptoms.
  • Behavioral Changes: A person with SUD usually has escalating drug use and may neglect responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use. They may try to hide or give excuses as they neglect other areas of their life due to substance use.
  • Loss of Interest: They may have less interest or participation in activities not related to substance use.
  • Continued Use Despite Consequences: People with substance use disorder often continue to use their drug of choice despite knowing it contributes to physical or mental health issues. They may even have legal issues that require them to quit using drugs but are unable to do so without help.
  • Cravings: People with substance use disorder usually have strong desires or cravings for the substance, which also contributes to a compulsive pattern of use.
  • Isolation: Over time, a person with substance use issues may become more antisocial and withdraw from family, friends, or social activities in favor of substance use. They typically prefer to be around other drug users where their behavior is normalized.
  • Finances: People who have an addiction often misuse their finances to fund their addiction. This can lead to problems with creditors, unpaid bills, and evictions.
  • Lost Trust: Many people who live with substance use disorder have lost the trust of their families after lying, manipulating, and sometimes even stealing from them. This can cause shame and embarrassment, which can lead to further isolation.

Many people with substance use disorder realize they have a problem with alcohol or drugs but are unsure what to do about it. Getting help and treatment can really transform your life. Addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a chronic and progressive disease. It doesn’t get better on its own.

Like any disease, it needs treatment, and the person needs care. Therapy, support groups, and sometimes medication-assisted treatment can help a person begin to heal and stay sober long-term.

Getting Help for Addiction

Everyone with a substance use disorder deserves help! It is a treatable and manageable condition. We're here to help you on the path to recovery as you begin to heal and reclaim your life. We offer a beautiful, serene location to help you start your journey in a community of like-minded people.

Our programs are tailored to meet each client's individual needs. We're here to help you get started! Call us at (949) 279-1376 or in Mexico: (612) 153-5726 to learn more about our program. Let’s start the journey to recovery together.



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Hi! I’m Melissa Stailey, a freelance writer that loves to cook. I live and work in Washington, DC.