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Diagnosed With Substance Use Disorder…Now What?

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With any diagnosis comes hope for recovery, but for those on the outside looking in, it can be difficult to know how to react. If you have a loved one, a co-worker, or a friend who has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, you may have questions about the diagnosis or the disorder, and you may be wondering how you can offer support. This guide is for you.

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

A substance use disorder is diagnosed when the use of alcohol or drugs – or both – causes significant impairment, including health issues, serious relationship problems, or a failure to meet responsibilities at home, school, or work, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The most common substance use disorders are alcohol, cannabis (marijuana), stimulant, hallucinogen, and opioid use disorders.

How is a Substance Use Disorder Diagnosed?

Substance use disorders are diagnosed through a thorough evaluation by a medical and mental health professionals, who use the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). According to the Mayo Clinic, lab tests aren’t used diagnostically, although they may be used during treatment and recovery to assess drug use.

The DSM-5, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, includes 11 criteria that indicate a pattern of drug or alcohol use. The criteria are divided into four groups:

  • Impaired control
  • Social impairment
  • Risky use
  • Pharmacological criteria

If two to three of the 11 criteria apply to a patient within a 12-month period, the substance use disorder is considered mild. A moderate diagnosis requires the presence of four to five criteria, and a severe diagnosis requires the presence of six or more criteria, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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These criteria include continuing to use drugs even though it’s causing health, financial, or social problems; wanting to quit using drugs but being unable to; and developing a tolerance to the drug so that it takes increasingly higher doses to get the desired effects.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

When someone is diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder, it’s known as a dual diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Each disorder in a dual diagnosis requires separate treatment, but the treatments for each should be integrated so that each is treated with the other in mind. This treatment model is essential for successful long-term recovery from each disorder.

How is a Substance Use Disorder Treated?

A substance use disorder or dual diagnosis is ideally treated through an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment facility, which will utilize a variety of research-based therapies to holistically treat the disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Treatment therapies include individual and group counseling, medications, peer support groups, 12-Step groups, case management, and recovery support services that are implemented once the treatment program has been completed. Alternative therapies like yoga, biofeedback, and acupuncture are utilized as well to ensure the whole person – the body, mind, and spirit – is being treated.

How You Can Offer Support

The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that different people need different types and different levels of support while being treated for a substance use disorder. Have a conversation with your loved one’s treatment provider about how you can offer support. Or, if you’re a friend or co-worker, talk to a close family member who is in contact with the provider to determine whether you should contact your friend during treatment.

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When you do see your friend or loved one, express your admiration for his courage, and offer your support in whatever way is needed. Once he completes treatment, recovery in the community can be very difficult due to triggers and the presence of any mental health issues. Talk to him openly, and ask what you can do to help. Offer love, encouragement, and support, and if a relapse occurs, encourage your friend or loved one to re-enter treatment.

Overcoming an addiction isn’t easy, but the more support someone in recovery has, the more positive he will feel about his recovery and the better his chances will be for long-term success.

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