How to assess if a person is suffering from substance abuse disorder?

How to assess if a person is suffering from substance abuse disorder?

Psychiatrists diagnose substance abuse disorder mainly based on a diagnostic manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Learn about the risk assessment procedure in HK.

DSM describes a problematic pattern of use of an intoxicating substance leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

  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 use of the substance.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use the substance.
  5. Recurrent use of the substance resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued use of the substance 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 use of the substance.
  8. Recurrent use of the substance in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Use of the substance is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    a. A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
    b. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following
    a. The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for that substance.
    b. The substance (or a closely related substance) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal occurs because our brains work like a spring when it comes to addiction. Drugs and alcohol are brain depressants that push down the spring. They suppress the brain’s production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When one stops using drugs or alcohol it’s like taking the weight off the spring, and the brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms. Every drug produces different physical and emotional withdrawal patterns.

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