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DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

The DSM 5 has eleven criteria for substance use disorders based on decades of research.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, is the American Psychiatric Association’s goldstandard text on mental health that was crafted by hundreds of mental health experts.

The DSM-5 has eleven criteria, or symptoms, for substance use disorders based on decades of research. The DSM-5 has helped change how we think about addictions by not overly focusing on withdrawal.

Three Levels of Severity

The DSM-5 includes guidelines for clinicians to determine how severe a substance use disorder is depending on the number of symptoms. Two or three symptoms indicate a mild substance use disorder; four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance use disorder, and six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder. A severe SUD is also known as having an addiction.

Doctors determine the severity level of the substance use disorder to help develop the best treatment plan. The higher the severity, the more intensive the level of treatment needed.

Most patients are likely to need ongoing treatment and recovery support using a chronic care model for several years. A doctor should monitor progress and adjust the plan as needed.

Like other illnesses, addiction gets worse over time. Similar to stages of cancer, there are levels of severity to describe a substance use disorder.


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