Millions of Americans meet criteria for having a substance use disorder. Therefore, there are also millions of Americans who meet criteria for needing addiction treatment. A substance use disorder is described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a disorder that “involves patterns of symptoms caused by using a substance that an individual continues taking despite its negative effects.” According to SAMHSA, substance use disorders occur “when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”

All that information is fantastic and has incredible value in the clinical setting or for a scientific understanding of substance use disorder. However, it has little value for the regular person suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, or for the family members, friends, or colleagues witnessing an individual struggle with drugs and alcohol. No person carries around a copy of the DSM-5 and points to specific criteria or diagnoses during their or their loved one struggle with substance use or addiction.

So, the major question remains: How can someone truly identify addiction? How can someone with a drug or alcohol problem, or someone watching a friend struggle with drugs or alcohol, identify that they truly have an issue and are in need of help?

For both individuals suffering from addiction and the people that love them, it can be very difficult to specifically pinpoint when drugs and alcohol have gone from a vice to a substance use disorder or even full-blown addiction. While the factors that drive addiction are always similar, no two people that suffer from addiction have the same exact story. Every person is different and the time when drug and alcohol use turns into drug and alcohol misuse or addiction varies greatly for each person. 

How do we identify addiction and know that someone has a problem and is in need of professional help? 

While there is no black and white answer and no definitive way to pinpoint exactly when professional help or intervention is necessary, there are some points to consider and questions to ask.

How to Identify Addiction

Man trying to use computer for online addiction treatment but is distracted

  • The most important question: Does the individual using drugs and/or alcohol feel that they have a problem or that their drinking and drugging has gotten out of control?
  • Has the person tried to stop or moderate their drinking and drug use and found that they cannot?
  • Have family, friends, or colleagues ever approached the person because they had concerns about their drinking or drug use?
  • Are important life and/or job responsibilities not being met because of drugs and/or alcohol?
  • Are there feelings of shame or guilt surrounding the use of drugs and alcohol?
  • Does the individual ever feel guilty about their drinking or drug use?
  • When someone asks about the drinking or drug use, does the individual get annoyed, irritated, angry, or defensive?
  • Does the person act like a victim when approached about their use of drugs and alcohol? Do they blame other people or situations for why they are drinking or drugging?
  • Are they drinking or using drugs throughout the day?
  • Are they physically dependent on any substance, such as opioids or alcohol, to not get sick? 
  • Have daily or life plans been made around the use of drugs and alcohol? Some examples could be the person only engages in social situations where drugs and alcohol are present or is unable to make plans or plan trips because they might not have drugs and alcohol.
  • Is the use of drugs and/or alcohol creating financial difficulties for the person? 
  • Has there been a major change in behaviors in the individual due to their use of drugs and alcohol?
  • Is the person lying about their drug and alcohol use? Are they minimizing their use? Are the justifying their use? Are they hiding their drug or alcohol use from friends and family?
  • Does the person suffer from a mental health concern, such as anxiety, depression, or bi-polar disorder, and is using the drugs and alcohol to cope, rather than seek mental health and support?

If an individual, or that individual’s family members and friends, can answer only a few of these questions in the affirmative, there is a good chance that they have crossed that imaginary line from drinking and drugging to substance use disorder and addiction. While no one can truly tell where that line is, if there are only a couple of “yes” answers to the questions above, there is little doubt that the individual as, at best, well on their way to having a substance use disorder or being in full-blown addiction. 

If that is the case, there is no question that the individual meets criteria for having a substance use disorder and, therefore, meets criteria for being in need of addiction treatment. The intervention of addiction treatment can look like many things: long-term treatment, detox, inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment or outpatient treatment, therapy, counseling, or psychiatry. It can certainly include things like sober living or a sober home, as well as professional case management or the hiring of an interventionist to begin the process. However, while a personalized treatment continuum of care needs to meet the individual’s clinical needs, regardless of what that looks like, the individual with a drug or alcohol problem is now in need of professional help.

The need for professional addiction treatment help shouldn’t be scary or frightening. The good news is that, with appropriate help, most people will overcome addiction and find recovery. What is scary is the large numbers of individuals being lost each year to alcohol and drug addiction, who never seek help. Remember, it is the nature of addiction that the sufferer does not believe they have a problem, or at best believes the drug and alcohol problem is much less severe than it is. They will often be resistant or combative regarding getting help, often saying things like “I can do this on my own” or “I know what I need to do.” 

The important point is that, when knowing someone has crossed that line from drug and alcohol use to substance use disorder or addiction, family members and friends need to be educated and aware that treatment and support is needed. They need to make sure they do everything to appropriately support the individual getting help for their addiction. And the individual suffering from addiction also needs to be educated and aware that trying to stop using and drinking on their own most likely won’t work. However, they also need to know that if they have crossed that line, that recovery is absolutely obtainable for them and available for them. All they need to do is understand they can’t do it on their own, ask for help, and take the necessary action that will lead not only to recovery, but to freedom, contentment, and most likely, a life of health and happiness. 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at

man suffering from addiction

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