Posted in alcohol and drug addiction on January 5, 2018
Last modified on May 13th, 2019

The Signs of Substance Use Disorder

Public health specialists, doctors and experts divide addictive substances into two broad categories: drugs (including prescription medications) and alcohol.

The core signs of addiction to all of these substances are essentially the same and define the presence of a diagnosable condition called substance use disorder. The primary difference in any case of this disorder depends on the specific substance causing problems for an individual.

Substance Use Disorder Essentials

Doctors use the substance use disorder diagnosis to identify signs of addiction to any substance. They use the same diagnosis to identify signs of serious substance abuse in non-addicted people. The term substance use disorder was officially introduced by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 as a way to formally recognize the frequent overlap between substance abuse and substance addiction. There is a form of this condition for every major group of addictive substances, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis (marijuana, hashish)
  • Stimulants (both prescription and illicit/illegal)
  • Opioids (both prescription and illicit/illegal)
  • Sedative, hypnotic and tranquilizing medications, and
  • Tobacco products

Addiction and Abuse Symptoms

Regardless of the substance causing the problem, there are 11 possible symptoms of substance use disorder. These symptoms include addiction-related issues, as well as abuse-related issues. They are:

  • Strong cravings for alcohol or a specific drug
  • Loss of control over your intake of alcohol or a specific drug (in terms of the amount you consume and/or the number of times consumption occurs)
  • A recurring inability to successfully quit drinking or using a specific drug, despite a desire to do so
  • Devotion of large amounts time to obtaining, consuming or recuperating from the effects of alcohol or a specific drug
  • A pattern of alcohol or drug use that causes you to miss, skip or avoid important obligations
  • Repeated use of alcohol or a specific drug in dangerous situations
  • Continuing to drink or use a specific drug despite awareness of the damage done to your physical and/or mental health
  • Continuing to drink or use a specific drug after experiencing seriously negative consequences of any kind
  • A pattern of drug or alcohol use that leads you to diminish your involvement in favored activities or stop participating in those activities altogether
  • Rising tolerance that forces you to consume more drugs or alcohol to experience a notable effect, and
  • The onset of withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking or consuming a specific drug (or continuing your intake specifically to avoid experiencing these symptoms)

If two or more of these symptoms appear within a 365-day span of time, seek help through a doctor or medical professional. They will help diagnose the presence of mild, moderate or severe substance use disorder.



“Substance Use Disorders” – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

“Substance Use Disorder” – U.S. National Library of Medicine–MedlinePlus

“The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics” – National Institute on Drug Abuse

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