DSM-5 Criteria for Addiction Simplified

Updated: Aug 20


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.


An excerpt from Navigating Addiction and Treatment: A Guide for Families, Addiction Policy Forum, 2020.






A Note From Addiction Policy Forum


Substance use disorders get worse over time. The earlier treatment starts the better the chances for long-term recovery. Many families are wrongly told to “wait for rock bottom” and that their loved one needs to feel ready to seek treatment in order for it to work. The idea that we should wait for the disease to get worse before seeking treatment is dangerous. Imagine if we waited until stage 4 to treat cancer. Decades of research has proven that the earlier someone is treated, the better their outcomes—and that treatment works just as well for patients who are compelled to start treatment by outside forces as it does for those who are self-motivated to enter treatment.


Help is Here


If you have questions or need to speak with someone for support, call or text (833) 301-4357 today. Our staff of trained counselors at Addiction Policy Forum provides free, confidential support to anyone in need of help with a Substance Use Disorder issue, including patients, families and healthcare providers.




Addiction A - Z Topics


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