Drug addiction (substance use disorder)


To diagnose drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder, a comprehensive assessment is essential and often involves evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. While blood, urine, or other laboratory tests are employed to evaluate drug use, they do not serve as diagnostic tests for addiction. However, these tests may be utilized for monitoring treatment progress and recovery.

In diagnosing substance use disorder, most mental health professionals rely on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Mayo Clinic’s compassionate team of experts is available to assist with any concerns related to drug addiction (substance use disorder).



While there is no definitive cure for drug addiction, various treatment options are available to aid in overcoming addiction and maintaining a drug-free life. The choice of treatment depends on the specific drug involved and any coexisting medical or mental health conditions. Long-term follow-up is crucial to prevent relapse.

Treatment Programs Substance use disorder treatment programs typically offer the following:

  1. Individual, group, or family therapy sessions.
  2. A focus on understanding the nature of addiction, achieving sobriety, and preventing relapse.
  3. A range of care levels and settings tailored to individual needs, including outpatient, residential, and inpatient programs.

Withdrawal Therapy The goal of withdrawal therapy, also known as “detox,” is to safely and promptly help individuals stop using addictive substances. Some may undergo outpatient withdrawal therapy, while others may require admission to a hospital or residential treatment facility.

Withdrawal from different drug categories, such as depressants, stimulants, or opioids, presents varying side effects and necessitates different approaches. Detox may involve gradually tapering the drug dose or temporarily substituting other substances like methadone, buprenorphine, or a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.

Opioid Overdose In cases of opioid overdose, naloxone can be administered by emergency responders or, in certain states, by bystanders who witness the overdose. Naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioid drugs. It is available in various forms, including a nasal spray (Narcan, Kloxxado) and an injectable form. Seeking immediate medical attention after using naloxone is crucial.

Medication as Part of Treatment In consultation with your healthcare provider, medication may be recommended as part of your opioid addiction treatment. While medications do not cure opioid addiction, they can aid in recovery by reducing cravings and helping to prevent relapse. Options may include buprenorphine, methadone, naltrexone, or a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.

Behavior Therapy Behavior therapy, a form of psychotherapy, can be conducted by psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed alcohol and drug counselors as part of a drug treatment program. This therapy may be individual, family-oriented, or group-based and can:

  1. Assist in developing coping strategies for drug cravings.
  2. Offer guidance on avoiding drugs and preventing relapse.
  3. Provide strategies to address potential relapses.
  4. Address issues related to employment, legal matters, and relationships with family and friends.
  5. Involve family members to improve communication and support.

Addressing Coexisting Mental Health Conditions Self-Help Groups Many self-help support groups follow the 12-step model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, offer assistance to individuals struggling with drug addiction. They emphasize that addiction is an ongoing challenge with a risk of relapse, fostering a sense of community and reducing feelings of shame and isolation.

Your therapist or licensed counselor can assist you in finding a suitable self-help support group, and you may also discover local or online support groups within your community.

Ongoing Treatment Even after completing initial treatment, ongoing care and support play a vital role in preventing relapse. Follow-up care may involve periodic appointments with a counselor, continued participation in a self-help program, or regular group sessions. If a relapse occurs, seek help promptly to address the situation.


Clinical Trials

Discover ongoing Mayo Clinic research studies testing innovative treatments, interventions, and diagnostic approaches aimed at preventing, detecting, treating, or managing this condition.

Coping and Support

Overcoming addiction and maintaining sobriety require unwavering dedication. Learning new coping strategies and knowing where to seek assistance are vital steps. Consider the following actions:

  1. Consult a Licensed Therapist or Drug and Alcohol Counselor: Drug addiction often accompanies various challenges that can benefit from therapy or counseling. This includes addressing underlying mental health issues, as well as marriage or family-related problems. Consulting with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed counselor can help restore peace of mind and mend relationships.

  2. Address Coexisting Mental Health Disorders: Individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, have a higher risk of developing drug addiction. If you exhibit any signs or symptoms of mental health problems, promptly seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional.

  3. Engage in Support Groups: Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous can be highly effective in coping with addiction. The compassion, understanding, and shared experiences within these groups can assist you in breaking free from addiction and maintaining sobriety.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Gaining an outside perspective from a trusted individual who knows you well can be helpful. You may initiate a conversation about your substance use with your primary care provider or request a referral to a drug addiction specialist, such as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Consider bringing a family member or friend along for support.

Here’s some guidance to prepare for your appointment:

What You Can Do: Before your appointment, take the following steps:

  1. Be Honest About Your Drug Use: To determine the most suitable treatment, provide honest information about your drug use, including the extent of your addiction, to your healthcare provider or mental health professional.

  2. Create a Medication and Supplement List: Document all medications, vitamins, herbs, or other supplements you are currently taking, along with their dosages. Share this list with your healthcare and mental health providers, including any legal or illegal drugs you may be using.

  3. Prepare a List of Questions: Compile a list of questions you want to ask your healthcare provider or mental health professional. These questions may include inquiries about the best treatment approach, the need for psychiatric evaluation, potential hospitalization or outpatient options, alternatives to the recommended treatment, and recommended resources.

Don’t hesitate to raise any additional questions during your appointment.

What to Expect From Your Doctor: Your provider is likely to inquire about several aspects, such as:

  1. Specific Drugs Used
  2. Initiation of Drug Use
  3. Frequency and Quantity of Drug Use
  4. Awareness of Potential Addiction Problem
  5. Previous Attempts to Quit and Outcomes
  6. Experience with Withdrawal Symptoms
  7. Family Concerns About Drug Use
  8. Readiness to Seek Treatment for Drug Addiction

Be prepared to respond to these questions, allowing for more extensive discussions on topics important to you.