What is classified as substance use disorder?

There are no set criteria that confirm if you have a substance use disorder. If you are concerned about your own use of substances or that of a loved one, talk to a professional and express your worries. Outlined below is a definition of what substance use disorder is, and how it is sometimes classified. 

Some providers use a scale called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, to figure out the severity of a substance use disorder or addiction. This scale can help determine if a SUD is “mild” (2-3), “moderate” (4-5), or “severe” (6 and beyond.) Though this can be a helpful tool, any repeated or consistent use of a substance can lead to substance use disorder, and if you feel like it’s time to seek help, you’re probably right.

The criteria for the DSM scale are:

  1. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended 
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control the use of the substance
  3. A great deal of time is spent on activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects 
  4. Craving or strong desire to use the substance
  5. Recurrent use of the substance results in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
  6. Use of the substance continues despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use 
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the use of the substance 
  8. Use of the substance is recurrent in situations in which it is physically hazardous
  9. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: 
    1. A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect
    2. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance 
  10. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: 
    1. The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance (as specified in the DSM-5 for each substance)
    2. The use of a substance (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms