Skip to content
4 min read

How Do Doctors Diagnose Substance Use Disorder?

People who use substances often use them in a way that isn't healthy. But what does Substance Use Disorder (SUD) entail? Substance use disorder diagnosis involves a comprehensive assessment, often by healthcare professionals who can assess a person's physical and psychological symptoms.

Doctors, including psychiatrists or addiction specialists, often work toward a diagnosis of SUD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is sometimes used as a guideline for diagnosis of SUD, while others use different medical scales to determine addiction.

Most people who have a substance use disorder are aware that they have a problem and have already experienced many symptoms of the disorder. Substance use disorder is a disease of the brain that changes the way a person feels thinks, and acts. Unfortunately, denying or minimizing drug use is also a symptom of SUD, which can make it tricky for people to have an honest conversation about the harm it is causing.

Diagnosing SUD requires understanding an individual's history, behaviors, and health. Once diagnosed, healthcare professionals 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 behavior that point to a problem with substance use.

These include:

  • Using More Substance, More Often: People with substance use disorder often use more drugs more often as a part of the disease. They build a tolerance and have withdrawal symptoms when they cannot use the substance.
  • Loss of Control: People who have a substance disorder are unable to limit how much they use a substance. They may be unable to quit substance use or have unsuccessful attempts to cut down. They may spend a significant amount of time obtaining or using the drug. They can't say "no" and often have trouble ceasing use when they want to have an early night in.
  • Finances: People who have an addiction often fund their addiction with their savings, credit cards, or even relatives' money. They may stop paying their credit card bills or mortgages. This can lead to problems with creditors, collection agencies, garnishments, and evictions.
  • Relationship Issues: They may continue to use substances despite persistent social problems related to their effects. Family and friends may worry, but their care and concern can alienate a person in the throes of addiction. They prefer to be in the company of people who don't judge their substance use.
  • Decreased Inhibitions/Risky Behaviors: They may engage in unsafe behavior, such as driving under the influence, or take sexual risks, including infidelity. A person with SUD will continue to use despite knowing that their use has become harmful and may be in denial about some of their more extreme behaviors, such as drinking when driving.
  • Intense Cravings: People with substance use disorder usually have intense cravings and desperation to use, which also contributes to a SUD. When they cannot use the drug, they will experience withdrawal symptoms as well as panic or anxiety about not using the drug.
  • Isolation: They will spend more time alone or away from their loved ones because they feel they need the drug or they don't fit in as a drug user. They will replace those people with people who use drugs and don’t know or care about them; the only thing in common is typically the drug use itself.
  • Behavioral Changes: A person with SUD usually has escalating drug use and begins to show symptoms of their disorder. They may become less responsible, more moody, or seem to spend a lot of time outside the house without explanation to family. They may act distant and withdrawn.
  • Doing Less of What They Love: A person with SUD may give up hobbies, commitments, and other things they once had a passion for.
  • Lost Trust: After months or years of using substances, most families have had "enough" multiple times. It's very hard to trust somebody in active addiction - after all, people with addictions often do anything, including lie, cheat, or steal, to get what they want.
  • Continued Use Despite Consequences: People with SUD often continue to use their drug of choice despite negative consequences. These consequences can escalate as addiction escalates, even leaving them with legal issues that require them to quit using drugs. Legal issues may involve illegal possession, forged prescriptions, and even theft or destruction of property. These issues may loom, but they can still can't quit using without help.

Addiction and SUD are tricky topics but important for somebody who wants to get sober but cannot do it on their own. All of the above symptoms are typical of people with SUD, and they are also treatable once a person is willing to get help.

Getting help and treatment can transform your life. Addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a chronic and progressive disease. It doesn’t get better on its own. People with SUD need a treatment plan, support, and sometimes even medication to achieve long-term sobriety.

How is Substance Use Disorder Treated?

Substance use disorder is treated with detox and rehab, usually for 30 days or longer. Many people utilize medication-assisted treatment to help them concentrate on staying clean and sober. Alongside therapy, drug education, and support groups, people in recovery can begin reclaiming their lives one day at a time.

At Present Moments, we work hard to help individuals become healthier and happier and offer a safe and supportive environment to all who walk through our doors. We’re here to help you stop surviving and learn how to thrive as a clean and sober individual. Learn how we can help by getting in touch; all calls are 100% confidential.



Read Full Bio
Mark G
Mark Gladden brings both personal and professional experience to his role as co-founder of Present Moments Recovery. Now in long-term recovery himself after struggling with addiction for years, Mark understands firsthand the challenges men face in achieving and maintaining sobriety. It was this insight, combined with a desire to help others, that led Mark to establish Present Moments Recovery.

Get in Touch with Our Caring Team

We are waiting for your call. Don’t hesitate, pick up the phone and dial 619-363-4767 today.

Your first call will be greeted by one of our intake counselors who will be able to provide information on what program would be appropriate for your situation, as well as information about the process of getting treatment at our facility, if appropriate.

If Present Moments is the right fit for your current situation you will be speaking to Admissions Director Mark Gladden, who will be your guide throughout the process of arranging travel and undergoing an initial detox (if necessary). Mark has been the guide for dozens of men and women who have gotten their lives back by entering treatment at Present Moments. He has earned his reputation as being truly dedicated to the recovery of others. Mark will be the one to ‘show you the ropes’ when it comes to admitting to our facility for treatment

Homepage Form

You CAN Achieve Sobriety

We Are Here To Guide You