How to Detect and Diagnose a Substance Abuse Problem

Treatment for Drug Addiction Should Assist Individuals Through Every Recovery Stage

The drug epidemic that is sweeping the United States is officially at epidemic proportions, especially when it comes to opioid abuse. Detecting and diagnosing a substance abuse problem can be tricky, especially since those who abuse drugs and alcohol are frequently secretive about their use, often using or consuming in isolation. This can make it difficult to truly know if someone is abusing substances based simply on what you see when you are around them.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that there are close to 22 million individuals across the nation who require substance abuse rehab; a startling number. Drug addiction is often unrecognized, as not all ‘drug addicts’ are dependent on illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Many addicts, in fact, are addicted to pharmaceutical-grade pain medication; the same ones that are doctor-prescribed for those who are in moderate to severe chronic discomfort.

The four main steps in diagnosis an addiction are:

  1. Meeting with a medical professional, addiction specialist, or psychiatrist.
  2. Meeting with a mental health specialist or psychologist who conducts tests in order to determine if there is a substance abuse disorder present.
  3. Sustain a traditional patient assessment in order to detect the severity of the addiction as well as review the possibility of a mental disorder.
  4. Cultivate a treatment program once the addiction or substance use disorder has been determined.

Diagnosing the Problem

In order to determine whether or not an individual is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, a series of diagnostic measures need to be taken. Some of the benchmarks that indicate substance abuse are:

  • Simply cannot refuse drugs/alcohol
  • Cannot refrain from using
  • Incapable of meeting the needs of family and work obligations
  • More time using drugs/alcohol than not using drugs/alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as moodiness are increasingly evident
  • Building up a high tolerance
  • Continuing to use despite a host of negative consequences

It’s important to realize that not each and every point listed above have to be met in order for there to be a substance abuse problem at hand. Even meeting one of the indicators could suggest that addiction treatment is required. Although every addiction and addict is different, generally, addicts will encompass several of the same qualities such as compulsively looking for an opportunity for when they can use again.

Dual Diagnosis

Through a psychiatric evaluation, addiction or a substance abuse disorder can be diagnosed. Diagnosis can also be determined through a blood or urine test. Oftentimes, an underlying and perhaps undiscovered mental illness is the cause of the addiction. Close to half of all addictions are a result of a mental illness which may be the explanation the substance abuse. By tackling the mental health disorder as well as the addiction, the patient can have a chance at successfully recovering from their addiction. Many mental health professionals follow certain rubrics that will stipulate whether or not a patient meets the criteria for a mental health illness. It may be a questionnaire style assessment that is issued by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Orders, issued by the American Psychiatric Associated.

Support Groups and Therapy Strategies

There are many different addiction treatment programs and therapies available that have proven to help patients through their recovery. In order for patients to benefit from their treatment program, it’s important that they look for one that will help them through all stages of recovery, from admittance to discharge and every phase thereafter. Joining support groups such as AA and NA meetings will also allow patients to build a network of people who are seeking the same outcomes as their own.

Therapy is also suggested for those who are coping with recovery. Family therapy and continued group therapy sessions are beneficial for those who want constant reassurance in their recovery measures.


If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.