How to recognize Substance use Disorder?

Substance and behavioral addictions are classified into substance-related disorders and non-substance related disorders. Looking at the substance-related disorders, the DSM-5 separates them into 10 classes of drugs:

Within substance-related disorders there are two categories divided: substance use disorder and substance induced disorder. Seeing that, DSM-5 combines the classes of substance abuse and substance dependence into what is known as substance use disorder. Where one can measure from a mild substance use disorder, where there exists two-three symptoms, to severe, in which the individual shows five symptoms. Between the two there is moderate substance use disorder, that is four-five symptoms present for the individual. 

Every of the classes mentioned above, with an exception of caffeine, is signed as a separate use disorder, and almost all substances are diagnosed based on the same overarching criteria. (Martins, 2021). 

If one wonders how they can know what a substance use disorder is and how to recognize it there are some criteria one can look at. Some main points to look at include impaired control, social impairment, risky use, tolerance and withdrawal.  

Impaired control-involves that there is a lack of control associated with the first intention of the individual. The substance consumption appears in greater amounts and over a longer period. However, the individual might indicate a wish to regulate or cut down their use of substance, and may even also note that they have tried this before, but have not succeeded. 

Further, a lot of time will be devoted to either obtaining the substance, consuming it or recovering from it. While it is clear that there is a craving related to the substance that can occur at any time, but it is more likely to appear in an environment in which the substance has been consumed previously. 

Social impairment will be associated with a deficiency or failure to live up to or achieve role obligations at, for instance, work, school or home. Even though their substance consumption leads to social or interpersonal problems, the individual still does not stop or decrease the intake. In some cases they might even leave or reduce activities related to social, occupational or recreational, due to their substance use. 

Risky use-when the individual consumes despite situations with physical danger, or knowing the fact that they have a persistent or recurrent psychological or physical problem related to the substance. 

Tolerance-when it is needed a considerably greater dose of the substance in order to acquire the desired effect, or a considerably smaller effect when the usual dose is consumed. 

Withdrawal-include appearance of withdrawal syndrome for the substance or use of similar substance with an intention of relieving withdrawal symptoms. 

By looking at the signs, it is possible to recognize whether there is a substance use disorder present in an individual, and then help the individual by giving them an opportunity to, for example, finding a psychologist.


Martins, S. (2021). Psychopathology: Psychopathology of Impulses. [Slide 47-]. UEM.blackboard. Retrieved from:

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