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How do I know I’m addicted?

Updated: Jan 11

How do I know I’m addicted?

Addiction, now more commonly referred to as Substance Use Disorder, is classified by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, fifth edition) as a complex disease that affects the functioning of the brain and body through chronic use of substances resulting in an inability to stop the habitual use physically or psychologically.

Let's look at the criteria:

  1. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control the use of the substance.

  2. Recurrent use of the substance failing to fulfil major role obligations at work, school, or home.

  3. Continued use of the substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.

  4. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the use of the substance.

  5. Recurrent use of the substance in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

  6. Use of the substance is continued despite the knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

  7. The substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

  8. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than what was intended.

  9. A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.

  10. Cravings or urges to use the substance.

Severity Levels

To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, you need to meet 2 or more of these criteria within 12 months. If you answered yes to 2 or 3 of the above, it is considered mild. 4 – 5 yes answers are considered moderate. Answering 6 or more as yes is considered severe.

E. Morton Jellinek created The Jellinek Curve in the 1950s which was later revised by Max Glatt, a British psychiatrist. It typically describes the phases of alcoholism and recovery. The purpose of this illustration is to point out the progression of the illness if help is not sought out.

Stages of Alcoholism:

1. Pre-Alcoholic

Occasional relief drinking. It makes you feel better about yourself, helps with worrying, or makes you forget about something that is troubling you.

2. Early Alcoholic

The onset of memory blackouts and excessive drinking. You start obsessing over the next drink and possibly lying about the amount you’ve been drinking or denying that you have been drinking.

3. Middle Alcoholic

This is a more obvious stage in that you have a problem with alcohol. Your mood is affected and you might have more noticeable physical signs of alcohol abuse.

4. Late Alcoholic

Drinking has now consumed your life and is affecting your health and relationships. Trying to stop may result in physical withdrawal symptoms.

5. Recovery

This is when most people seek help. Once stabilized through detoxification, treatment starts and the maintenance phase of your recovery takes place.

Even if this is an illustration of alcoholism, it depicts the stages for most substances that are commonly abused. Understanding that early intervention is crucial to illuminate the chances of severe addiction.

Common misconceptions about addiction:

1. It is a bad habit and you can choose to stop

Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. No one decides to become addicted. Many people who have used drugs recreationally or drink can do so without becoming dependent on them. Read more here on what addiction is.

2. An addict is a junky and lives on the streets

Many people are high-functioning members of society despite having a substance use disorder.

3. Alcohol is not as bad as illicit drugs

Because alcohol is socially acceptable, the consequences of alcoholism are just as real as any other substance user.

4. My doctor prescribed my drugs so they can’t be harmful

Numerous types of medication have the potential of becoming physically and psychologically addictive. Read more here on prescription medication addiction.

5. Addiction is about drugs and alcohol

Process addiction or behavioural addiction is more common than one would think. Read more on process addiction here.

There is no better time to get help than now, no matter the severity of a person’s addiction.


Gain insight into recognizing addiction with an exploration of Substance Use Disorder criteria. Learn about severity levels and the stages of alcoholism illustrated by The Jellinek Curve. Debunk common misconceptions surrounding addiction, emphasizing its status as a disease. Discover the importance of early intervention and the prevalence of process or behavioural addiction. Now is the time to seek help for addiction, regardless of severity. Explore our post on why you need help with addiction for further guidance.

DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

Describes addiction as Substance Use Disorder, a complex disease classified by the DSM-5. It emphasizes criteria such as unsuccessful efforts to cut down substance use, neglecting major responsibilities due to substance use, and continued use despite negative consequences. The goal is to highlight the clinical aspects of addiction.

Severity Levels and Diagnosis

The Jellinek Curve and Stages of Alcoholism:

Common Misconceptions about Addiction

Process and Behavioural Addiction:

Encouragement for Seeking Help

The blog comprehensively addresses the clinical criteria for diagnosing Substance Use Disorder, providing readers with a clear framework to assess the severity of their condition. It combines this with a visual representation of the Jellinek Curve, offering insight into the stages of alcoholism and the crucial recovery phase.

Moreover, the blog challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about addiction, fostering a more nuanced understanding. By including behavioural addictions, it broadens the perspective on addictive behaviours. The overall tone encourages individuals to seek help promptly, emphasizing that addiction is a disease and debunking myths that might hinder someone from reaching out for assistance.

In essence, the blog serves as an informative guide for individuals questioning their addiction, providing clarity on diagnostic criteria, illustrating the potential progression of the condition, and encouraging a proactive approach to seeking help.



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