Diagnosing Drug Addiction – Methods, Process & Criteria

Programs, services, and treatments vary. We Level Up FL is a primary mental health center offering co-occurring treatments. We treat the entirety of behavioral health disorders including their secondary corresponding illnesses to improve long-term recovery outcomes. Get a free mental health assessment and find out what treatment options are most suitable for you. We Level Up Florida can help with inpatient primary mental health therapy. Depending on the extent of secondary behavioral disorders such as addiction we can first help assess your condition and thereafter guide you to suitable treatment options.

Diagnosing drug addiction requires realizing that there is a problem and seeking help. Alcohol and drug use are not always an indication of addiction, although drug use carries many health and social risks in addition to the danger of addiction. Once an individual has decided that they have a problem and need help, the next step is an examination by a healthcare professional.

Diagnosing drug addiction requires assessment by a mental or medical health professional. A total diagnosis often includes assessment by multiple professionals, such as a general practitioner, psychologist, and psychiatrist. People should undergo testing and assessment not only for drug addiction but also other conditions that could contribute to or affect the addiction, such as mental health disorders and medical conditions.

In a formal addiction treatment program, the Diagnosing Drug Addiction process often takes place during the initial assessment. After that assessment, which may include medical tests in addition to an interview with the client, initial diagnoses may be made. These diagnoses may be modified as the treatment process starts.

Diagnosing Drug Addiction
Diagnosing drug addiction requires a thorough evaluation and often includes an assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.

Can Addiction be Treated Successfully?

While the term “addiction” does not appear in the DSM, it is generally viewed as a severe substance use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [1], addiction is described as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.

Addiction is a treatable, chronic disorder that can be managed successfully. Study shows that combining medications (if needed) with behavioral therapy, is the best way to ensure success for most patients. The combination of behavioral interventions and medications to treat alcohol and drug abuse is known as medication-assisted treatment. Treatment approaches must be personalized to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, environmental, psychiatric, and social problems. This is according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [2].

Criteria in Diagnosing Drug Addiction

Diagnosis is the process of identifying and labeling specific disease conditions. The symptoms and signs used to classify an ill person as having a disease are called diagnostic criteria. Diagnosing Drug Addiction criteria and classification systems are useful for making clinical decisions, estimating disease pervasiveness, understanding the roots of the disease, and developing scientific communication.

Diagnosis also may serve a variety of administrative purposes. When a person is suspected of having a substance use disorder, diagnostic procedures are needed to eliminate “false positives” (for example, people who seem to have the disorder but who really do not) and borderline cases. The need for uniform reporting of statistical data, as well as the generation of prevalence estimates for epidemiological research, often requires a diagnostic classification of the client.

Process in Diagnosing Drug Addiction

  • The first step in Diagnosing Drug Addiction relies on a family member, friends, or the person struggling with addiction themselves confirming a need for treatment.
  • This can usually be the most challenging step and might sometimes involve either a personal, or group intervention if the person suffering from alcohol or drug addiction is not aware of the extent of the problem.
  • The individual with suspected drug or alcohol addiction visits a primary care physician or a family doctor, who may then refer them to an addiction or rehabilitation specialist.
  • For Diagnosing Drug Addiction the doctor will ask questions about frequency of use, impairment of daily living, and whether the use of drugs or alcohol is increasing, and how the pattern of use is affecting important social, work, school, or other functional areas.
  • The doctor will also ask about withdrawal symptoms which may have happened at times when the person tried to decrease or stop use.
  • They will perform a physical examination, conduct a toxicology screening, and run some blood work to assess overall well-being. This helps to decide if medical treatment is needed.
Diagnosing Drug Addiction
Diagnosing drug addiction and comorbid mental disorders is complex because it is often difficult to disentangle overlapping symptoms.

Criteria for Substance Use Disorders

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) updated the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), replacing substance abuse and substance dependence with a single category: substance use disorder, with three subclassifications such as mild, moderate, and severe. In addition, the symptoms of substance use disorder fall into four major groupings: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria (i.e., tolerance and withdrawal). 

DSM 5 is the standard classification of mental disorders used for clinical, research, policy, and reimbursement purposes in the United States and elsewhere. Therefore, it has widespread importance and influence on how disorders are diagnosed, treated, and investigated. [3]

The DSM 5 allows clinicians to define how severe or how much of a problem the substance use disorder is, depending on how many symptoms are identified, happening within a 12-month period. Those who have two or three criteria are considered to have a “mild” disorder, four or five are considered “moderate,” and six or more symptoms, “severe.” The diagnostic criteria are as follows:


Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.


Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.


Spending a long period of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance.


Urges and cravings to use the substance.


Not managing to do what you should at home, work, or school because of substance use.


Regularly using the substance, even when it causes problems in relationships.


Giving up important occupational, social, or recreational activities because of substance use.


Consuming the substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.


Continuing to use, even when you know you have a psychological or physical problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.


Demanding more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).


Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.

Find The Right Treatment for Secondary Co-occurring Addiction

Diagnosing drug addiction
Diagnosing drug addiction should be treated urgently, including medical detox and psychotherapy.

Untreated alcohol and drug addiction can be harmful to your health, your relationships, and your life as a whole. They can even lead to death, so get help as today. Your doctor can refer you to an addiction specialist or an addiction treatment program to ensure that you receive the right course of treatment.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, get them the safest help they need and deserve. Learning the process of diagnosing drug addiction works will help you understand the importance of getting the proper support.

Treatment for secondary behavioral disorders is needed too.

Inpatient medical detox and residential primary addiction treatment may be available at our affiliated facility at Level Up West Palm Beach Rehab. For some primary behavioral health treatment clients, medical detox and or addiction rehab may be required first.  If you have a co-occurring severe substance abuse diagnosis, please contact us prior to beginning inpatient mental health therapy. Treatment services may vary. Please call us to learn which treatment options are most suited for your individual needs.


[1][2] SAMHSA – https://wyoleg.gov/InterimCommittee/2020/10-20201105Handoutfor6JtMHSACraig11.4.20.pdf

[3] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767415/

[4] Diagnosing Drug AddictionWe Level Up