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4 minutes

What Is DSM 5 Substance Use Disorder? How To Get Help If Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 8, 2022
Consultation with a doctor

Updated on

5 Jul, 2022

When people discuss substance abuse disorders and other similarly diagnosed disorders, they often refer to the DSM 5 criteria. But what exactly is the DSM 5, and how does it relate to substance abuse disorders? We are going to look at what the DSM 5 is, what it does for the substance abuse community, and how the DSM 5 substance use disorder guidelines may apply to someone using a substance.

What is DSM 5?

The DSM 5 is the culmination of many years of research by experts around the world in all fields of mental health. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM 5, complies, classifies, and defines mental disorders to improve general diagnoses, treatment, and research. The DSM 5 is published by the American Psychiatric Association and includes input from hundreds of international authorities in various mental health fields.

At its core, it is a manual that is the standard handbook used to diagnose mental disorders by medical professionals or others in the healthcare field. It is the world’s authoritative guide to recognized and diagnosable mental disorders and provides a clear list for each disorder. In addition, it helps to standardize the language used by those in the mental health fields to communicate about their cases and establishes consistent descriptions and symptoms used to define and research mental disorders.

It is reviewed occasionally and revised when needed to reflect changing diagnoses, symptoms, disorders, or even entire approaches to mental health. The DSM provides the common mechanisms by which academics can add information for potential revisions in the future so that the development and treatment of mental disorders can continue to advance as science dictates.

What are the DSM 5 Criteria for a Substance Use Disorder?

As the DSM 5 is the premier authority on mental disorders, the DSM 5 substance use disorder criteria are the defining criteria that medical professionals use to determine whether or not a patient has what can be considered a diagnosed case of substance abuse disorder. The criteria are rooted in decades of research in the mental health field and clinical experience.

Cravings to Use the Substance

Cravings and urges to use a substance that is ongoing or significantly strong can be a criterion for substance abuse disorder. They will have cravings to use the substance whenever they are not currently using or experiencing the effects of the substance.

Wanting to Stop or Reduce Use When Desired

Wanting to reduce to stop taking a substance but not being personally able to stop their use is a strong indicator of substance abuse disorder. They may even express to those close that they want to stop using but are unable.

Taking Larger or More Frequent Amounts

This is often referred to as developing a tolerance, necessitating taking larger amounts of the substance to feel the same desired effects. This can also manifest as taking the substance more often, as the body gets used to the effects and it begins to wear off sooner.

Neglecting Other Parts Of Life

A very strong indicator that someone has an issue with substance abuse, and one of the DSM 5 substance use disorder criteria is the substance’s use having a negative effect on other parts of the user’s life. This can mean poor job performance or attendance issues, failing school performance, or failure to properly care for their children.

Using Even When it Causes Problems in Relationships

One of the hallmarks of a substance abuse problem is when the user abuses a substance to the point that it affects, damages, and even destroys the relationships with those close to them. This can be a substance causing issues in dating relationships or even family relationships.

Using Even When it Puts the User in Danger

Using a substance that could cause or is causing great amounts of physical harm, despite knowing the risks, is another DSM 5 substance use disorder criteria.

Ignoring Once Important Activities in Favor of Substance Use

This is one that many people will notice since it is one of the biggest changes in the user’s new life. Foregoing social obligations and stopping participating in recreational activities they were once enthusiastic about are very important criteria.

How The DSM 5 Criteria for a Substance Use Disorder Can Help You Get the Treatment You Need

Not every single addiction ruins every life. Some just take their toll on health, relationships, finances, and more. Unfortunately, people with abuse disorders like these may never realize that they have a problem until they see a list of the criteria, see how many they fit, then put two and two together.

The criteria are very straightforward, self-explanatory for the most part, and clear enough to allow for a self-diagnosis by many people. This can help many people understand that they may have a substance abuse disorder based on the DSM 5 criteria. In addition, this can be the basis for finding a local mental health or substance abuse professional to begin the long road to recovery.

Treatment Options for a DSM 5 Substance Use Disorder

Suppose you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a DSM 5 substance use disorder. In that case, one of the most important things to do is to seek treatment with an experienced treatment center that can create a treatment plan that fits the individual’s needs while providing them with a dignified recovery.

By working with premier treatment professionals, the recovering individual can get the attention they need for the difficult, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous detox and acute withdrawal while supervised by health care professionals. Once the acute withdrawal phase is complete, the recovering individual can work on methods to avoid triggering situations or events, safeguarding their recovery to ensure lasting sobriety.

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for an addiction, reach out today. We are here to help individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction find healing and life-long sobriety. Reach out to us today.


Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Thailand: American Psychiatric Association.

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Michael Dadashi

Medical Content Writer

Family owned and operated since 2014, Infinite Recovery was founded by Michael & Ylianna Dadashi to give those struggling with addiction a second chance and help to rebuild their lives. Clean and sober since 2009, Michael is passionate about helping others discover their authentic self and live a life of true freedom and purpose.

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