How Addiction Is Diagnosed

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Addiction is a complex mental disorder and is often self-diagnosed. There is no minimum requirement for how long or how often you must use a substance or how much you need to consume before being diagnosed with addiction. Ultimately, having a substance abuse disorder is about how it is affecting you and your overall quality of life.

While most people think of consuming drugs or alcohol when thinking of addiction, it’s important to remember that there can be behavioral addictions such as gambling, technology, shopping, and many other seemingly ordinary activities. While the general diagnosis information in this article can apply to any addiction, the focus will be on substance abuse.

A young blond haired girl meets with a therapist to discuss her struggles, addictions, and mental wellbeing. She is dressed casually in a denim jacket and has an angry expression on her face as she looks away from the therapist and ignores her. The therapist is wearing a white lab coat and has her back toward the camera.

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Professional Screenings

If you suspect you could have an addiction, the next step is an examination by a healthcare professional. This involves:

  • Questions about behaviors or substance use
  • An examination to assess overall health
  • The development of a treatment plan that works best for your specific addiction

The exact diagnosis a person receives will depend on the nature of their addiction. Because some substances have the potential to cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped, it is important to receive an appropriate diagnosis in order to get the best treatment.

Can My Healthcare Provider Report Illegal Drug Use to the Authorities?

Your healthcare provider is not legally required to report drug use to any law enforcement agency. Simply put, if you make an appointment to see your healthcare provider about addiction to drugs, they will not call the police to report you. 

Substance use disorders span a wide variety of problems arising from substance use. According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition” (DSM-5), substance abuse is diagnosed using these 11 criteria:

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance)
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance

Lab Tests

While there are many lab tests to detect drugs or alcohol in someone’s blood or urine, they can generally only see recent use.

Regardless, your healthcare provider may recommend specific lab tests to monitor your treatment and recovery. Your healthcare provider may also order lab tests to see the potential impact of substances on your physical health. 

At-Home Testing

Since addiction is often a self-diagnosed condition, recognizing or deciding you may be struggling with an addiction is often one of the biggest challenges in recovery.

Everyone who has an addiction comes to that recognition in different ways.

Questions to ask yourself if you think you may have an addiction include:

  • Do you say you’re going to stop or use less next time, but it never seems to happen?
  • Does it take you a while to get over the “side effects” of drinking alcohol or using drugs?
  • Do you have such an intense craving for a substance, it seems almost impossible to think about anything else?
  • Do you miss time at work, school, or family gatherings because you have to use or meet up with a dealer?
  • Do you have to consume more than before to get the same feeling as last time?
  • Have you ever stolen from a friend or family member as a way to get more?
  • Has someone close to you ever expressed a concern about your habits?
  • And most importantly, do you think you have an addiction?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, speak with a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling with addiction, the most important thing is to reach out for help. Finding a healthcare provider or attending an addiction support group are the first steps you can take to get on the road to recovery. 

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Definition of addiction. Updated September 15, 2019.

  2. McLellan AT. Substance misuse and substance use disorders: Why do they matter in healthcare? Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2017;128:112-130.