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signs of substance abuse

The Signs Of Addiction

How is addiction defined? Is it simply having more than a couple of drinks? When does the use of a particular substance go from recreational to addiction? Substance abuse and addiction are not always straightforward. Sometimes understanding addiction can feel like a "gray" area. To help bring clarity to the issue, below are some quick tools to help identify what substance abuse and addiction look like on the surface.

A Clinical Definition of Addiction

Clinical Psychologists use a set of criteria to define many mental health issues. When clinicians and psychologists diagnose someone with a mental health issue or other life-debilitating disorder, they use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. Think of the DSM as an encyclopedia for mental health.

The DSM creates a standard language and criteria for clinicians to talk to one another when trying to understand and help an individual. The diagnostic is descriptive and NOT prescriptive in its material. Because the DSM is descriptive, the DSM only looks to identify surface behavior and does not prescribe cures.

There are multiple types of addiction, but the DSM has simplified the identification of addiction by creating a category called "Substance Use Disorder" or SUD. SUD is a descriptive list common to all addictions and can help an individual identify the signs of addiction. 

Substance use Disorder

When it comes to identifying substance abuse issues, the DSM is a valuable tool. The DSM defines Substance Use Disorder as involving patterns of symptoms caused by using a substance that an individual continues taking despite adverse effects. The DSM identifies 11 different criteria for SUD: [1]

1. Using more of a substance than intended or using it for longer than you're supposed to use it.

2. Trying to cut down or stop using the substance but unable to stop.

3. Experiencing intense cravings or urges to use the substance.

4. Needing more of the substance to get the desired effect — also called tolerance.

5. Developing withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance.

6. Spending more time getting and using drugs and recovering from substance use.

7. Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school because of substance use.

8. Continuing to use even when it causes relationship problems.

9. Giving up important or desirable social and recreational activities due to substance use.

10. Using substances in risky settings that put you in danger.

11. Continuing to use a substance despite the substance causing problems to your physical and mental health.

What Kind of Substances Qualify for Sud?

The above factors apply to all substances, even legal substances. Sometimes, we can overlook something like nicotine usage because it's ubiquitous and legal. However, it doesn't matter what the substance is; if the individual shows symptoms of the above list, then addiction is already present. Here is a list of some substances that could qualify for SUDs but is not exhaustive. 

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opioids (both illegal and prescribed, such as Oxycodone)
  • Extacy
  • Over the counter drugs
  • Prescribed drugs

The Stages of Addiction

While the above list seeks to identify SUDs, the DSM also relates the symptoms to severity and types of addiction. A mild substance use disorder displays two or three of the above-listed symptoms. Moderate substance abuse presents four or five of the listed symptoms. Six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder.

It may be easy for someone with a mild substance use disorder to dismiss that they have an issue. However, the problem with addiction is that it evolves slowly over time into something much more aggressive. Much like the proverbial frog in a pot, so is the individual who slowly enters addiction.  

What Actions Should I Take?

If you think someone you know may have an addiction, it can be challenging how to approach the topic. Fear of backlash and awkwardness can often prevent us from talking to others when they most need it. There are many ways to confront someone, and it doesn't have to be accusing or harsh. There are different levels of confrontation, from one-on-one questions to group intervention. Discerning the severity of the situation can help you plan how to talk to someone who needs help. For more thoughts on how to address a loved one struggling with addiction, read our blog, "When Intervention Is Necessary".

Substance abuse issues left untreated can have relational, financial, and spiritual consequences and can even be fatal. The struggling individual must get help as soon as possible. Treatment is an important avenue to pursue for addiction as the body becomes physically dependent on a substance and needs medical intervention.

At 8 Oaks, we view the individual holistically as physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our trained, licensed Christian drug and alcohol counselors, licensed mental health therapists, and medical staff are equipped to walk alongside struggling individuals to help restore them to health. We believe that addiction is a journey that needs the support of others, and 8 Oaks is ready to help those struggling with addiction on that path to find freedom. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues and can identify many of the above-listed symptoms, please call 931-903-2500 for help or visit our web page at for more information.


McLellan AT. Substance misuse and substance use disorders: Why do they matter in healthcare?. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2017;128:112-130. 

About Us

8 Oaks Recovery is a Christ-centered addiction recovery program located in Wayne County, TN. We offer a unique treatment approach blending spiritual and clinical work. We work with adult males ages 18-65 years old.

Licensing & Accreditation

The 8 Oaks is licensed by the State of Tennessee and accredited by The Joint Commission, the national leader in healthcare organization accreditation.


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Westpoint, Tennessee  38486

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