11 Signs of Substance Use Disorder

When does taking drugs or drinking cross the line into an issue that needs attention? When certain signs of substance use disorder continue to occur, looking for secondary and tertiary effects can help you draw definitive conclusions.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the definition of substance use disorder is a dysfunctional pattern of compulsive substance use resulting in significantly harmful consequences.2 Only a licensed mental health professional can make a diagnosis of substance use disorder.

What Are the Signs of Substance Use Disorder?

Clinicians use the following list of 11 signs of substance use disorder to determine an individual’s diagnosis. If you experience two or more of the following signs within a 12-month period, consider seeing a mental health counselor for an accurate diagnosis.1

  1. Using the substance in larger amounts, more frequently or for longer periods of time than intended: You plan to have one or two drinks with coworkers and go home, but you end up having six and closing the bar down.
  2. Attempts to reduce or stop using fail: You try to cut down on the amount of medication you’re taking, but can’t keep to it.
  3. Spending progressively more time getting, using or recovering from using the substance: You’re spending more and more time seeking the substance, using it and dealing with hangovers or other effects.
  4. Cravings to use the substance appear: Your mind turns to the substance repeatedly throughout the day, experienced as compulsive urges to use a substance.
  5. Signs of Substance Use Disorder

  6. Obligations are being neglected and harmful consequences result: You’re skipping work, missing deadlines, forgetting things or showing up hungover. Your job performance is declining due to substance use.
  7. Despite harmful consequences, substance use continues: Your relationships are suffering because of substance use, but you continue to use. Your boss is not happy because you show up to work hungover or miss deadlines. Important people in your life are harmed or upset because of your substance use.
  8. Giving up activities that you previously enjoyed: Your job, school, hobbies and recreational activities are ignored or suffer because of substance use.
  9. Increased risk taking or using substances in hazardous situations: You’re drinking and driving, engaging in unprotected sex while under the influence or going to dangerous locations to get or use substances.
  10. Continuing to use substances after knowing it’s causing health problems: You’re continuing to take substances, even after knowing your mental or physical health is suffering.
  11. Needing more of the substance to feel its previous effects: You’ve developed a tolerance and now have to take twice as many pills to feel the same effects.
  12. Withdrawal symptoms develop: If you stop using, a set of unpleasant symptoms develop. Each substance causes a different set of symptoms.

Substance Use Counseling

If you suspect that you or a loved one has a substance use problem, consult with a licensed mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis. Substance use counseling can help you recover and live a sober and healthy life.


  1. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
  2. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/revised-alcoholsubstance-use-disorder/