What Are the Criteria for a Medical Diagnosis of Addiction?

Many struggling substance abusers deny their problem—and delay getting help—because of the stigma attached to addiction. Unfortunately, the perception that addiction is due to selfishness or weakness still exists, even though medical and addiction recovery professionals recognize substance abuse disorder as a chronic illness.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis for an addictive disorder may be called for when the substance abuser exhibits three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Tolerance – the need for ever-greater amounts of the substance to achieve the same pleasurable effect.
  • Loss of Control – an inability to choose frequency or amount of drug or alcohol consumption
  • Failed Attempts to Quit or Cut Back—This could be previous unsuccessful stints in rehab.
  • Disproportionate Time Spent Thinking about, Acquiring, Using, or Recovering from Using the Substance—Preoccupation with drugs or alcohol interferes with everyday life.
  • Abandonment of Other Interests or Responsibilities – disinterest in previously-enjoyed hobbies, withdrawal from social activities, increasing isolation
  • Continued Usage Despite Negative Consequences – health issues (disease, overdose), relationship problems (divorce, separation), financial difficulties (job loss, unpaid bills), or legal complications (fines, arrests)
  • Withdrawal – Within a very short time after use the substance is discontinued, the individual begins to suffer from uncomfortable or even dangerous physical and psychological symptoms:
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, Vomiting, or Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Cramps
  • Headache
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Seizures

Addiction is a disease that hijacks your brain, robbing you of choice. There is no need to delay treatment because of perceived embarrassment or shame. Just as is the case with any other chronic disease – diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma – it is possible to get help, learn how to manage your illness, and no one to live a happy and productive life.


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