A Complete Definition of Substance Use Disorder

With drug abuse and addiction rates rising with each passing year, substance use disorders run the gamut in terms of types and severity levels. With so many developments taking place within the addictions field, the definition of substance use disorder has changed to keep up with the times.

Regardless of the type or severity level, it’s most important that anyone showing signs of substance use disorder seek out some form of treatment help as soon as possible.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder goes by many names, including chemical abuse, drug addition and drug dependence. While each of these terms relates to substance abuse in some way, the definition of substance use disorder comes with specific criteria that don’t necessarily correspond with all of these terms.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, substance use disorder specifically refers to drug dependence in the sense that the body has reached a point where it needs a drug (or alcohol) to function normally. In turn, this disorder can appear in different stages of severity depending on how long a person has engaged in substance abuse practices.

Call our helpline at 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to see if your insurance will help pay your rehab costs.

Definition of Substance Use Disorder: DSM-IV vs. DSM-V

Substance Use Disorder

No longer engaging in previously enjoyed activities is a symptom of a substance use disorder.

As a diagnosis, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, or DSM-V definition of substance use disorder is markedly different than the previous DSM-IV edition. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, the DSM-IV definition divides substance use disorder into two separate classifications: substance abuse and substance dependence.

The new, revised edition eliminates these classifications, and instead assigns individual forms of substance abuse with their own distinct disorders, such as:

Diagnostic Criteria

Based on the new DSM-V definition of substance use disorder, diagnostic criteria for this condition(s) falls under four main categories in terms of adverse effects had in a person’s daily life:

  • Social impairment
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Ability or inability to control usage amounts
  • Level of drug tolerance and severity of withdrawal episodes

From there, individual symptoms of substance use disorder fall into one or more of the above categories, with severity levels ranging from mild to severe.


Signs/Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

For diagnosis purposes, someone fitting the definition of substance use disorder must display at least two of the following 11 symptoms within a 12-month time-frame:

  • Cravings
  • Loss of control over substance use
  • Spending large amounts of time getting drugs
  • Failed attempts at stopping substance use
  • No longer engaging in previously enjoyed activities
  • Continued substance use in the face of relationship problems
  • Continued substance in spite of declines in health
  • Decline in work, school performance or in meeting family obligations
  • Withdrawal episodes
  • Increasing tolerance for larger amounts
  • Risk-taking when using substances

Treatment Needs

Substance use disorder in any form becomes increasingly worse with time in terms of the negative effects it has in a person’s life as well as the severity of substance use itself. In effect, the sooner a person gets needed treatment help the easier it is to overcome the effects of this condition.

If you suspect you or someone you know meets the definition of substance use disorder and have more questions, or need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addictions specialists.


I NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE NOWI NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE NOW888-647-0051Response time about 1 min | Response rate 100%
Who Answers?

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline will be answered or returned by one of the treatment providers listed, each of which is a paid advertiser.

By calling the helpline you agree to the terms of use. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses. There is no obligation to enter treatment.