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How do I know if I have an addiction?

David Vittoria, MSW
Addiction Medicine

A person who wonders if they are addicted to something probably has a reason for their query. Usually, there is some innate suspicion, concern or fear. This is no different from a person who knows the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and may be having periodic chest pain. There is hope that the person will seek medical attention promptly in order to be properly diagnosed and, if necessary, enter into life-saving treatment.

A person who has some knowledge of addiction in general may not be so willing to enter into a diagnostic process for an addictive disorder. Why not? Unlike coronary artery disease and heart attacks, the disease of addiction carries with it a societal stigma which prevents many people from seeking help.

The person who may be concerned that their use of a substance or their engagement in a certain behavior is becoming harmful to them may begin the diagnostic process by reading one of the many on-line medical articles published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (asam.org) or take one of the on-line “tests” (CAGE Questionnaire, Michigan Alcohol/Drug Screening Test, Drug Abuse Screening Test).

These “tests,” if answered honestly, could lead to a formal appointment with a professional person skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of addictive disorders. A physician or therapist knowledgeable about the stages of addiction will help the individual. The physician or therapist will help this person enter into a process whereby he or she will be able to gain sufficient information to make his or her own decision about the criteria for an addictive disorder diagnosis --- just like the chest pain patient would engage with their cardiologist.

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Addiction Medicine
Determining whether you have addiction isn't completely straightforward. And admitting it isn't easy, largely because of the stigma and shame associated with addiction. But acknowledging the problem is the first step toward recovery.

Screening tests exist for some specific forms of addiction. However, a "yes" answer to any of the following three questions suggests you might have a problem with addiction and should—at the very least—consult a health care provider for further evaluation and guidance.
  1. Do you use more of the substance or engage in the behavior more often than in the past?
  2. Do you have withdrawal symptoms when you don't use the substance or engage in the behavior?
  3. Have you ever lied to anyone about your use of the substance or extent of your behavior?
Judi Hollis
Health Education

Watch as Dr. Judi Hollis discusses how to know if you have an addiction.


Fredrick Wade
Addiction Medicine
According to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, substance dependence is defined as:

"When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance, substance dependence may be diagnosed. Compulsive and repetitive use may result in tolerance to the effect of the drug and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped”.

In addition, it is very important for you to think of addiction in a relational context. When someone has developed an addiction, the relationship with the substance becomes a primary relationship that is more important than all others. Over time, the addiction (an Addictive Thinking) is the lens through which the world is viewed and the foundation from which all life decisions are made.  Such an understanding will help you make sense of behaviors that have been and will develop as a result of the addictive process and its associated thinking and values.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.