Diagnosis of Addictive Disorders

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Folder with a patient's medical history

Clinical interview. Addictive disorders are mainly diagnosed through a clinical interview with the patient. This interview is often also attended by relatives or close friends who can provide relevant information about the person. To confirm that the person has taken or takes the substance, they are asked about their use pattern for the drug, both at present and in the past.

Urine sample cup and urine test strip

Laboratory tests. There are certain lab tests that can help confirm that a person takes the substance, such as a urine analysis that analyses the traces of any drugs taken. This technique is also used to detect relapses.

For drug use to be considered an addictive disorder it is also necessary to assess the impact it has on the person. Experts agree on several criteria for this, including:

  • The patient consumes more than they initially intended to, and feels they have lost control over the substance.
  • The consumption of the drug has a negative impact on the patient’s life (deterioration of interpersonal relationships, physical or psychological discomfort, loss of work, abandonment of other activities such as leisure or sport).
  • The patient develops tolerance (greater quantities of drugs are needed to attain the desired effects) and/or physical dependence (when the patient stops taking the substance, they find themselves in a situation of abstinence, entailing health risks and a great deal of psychological discomfort).
  • The consumption has an impact on the physical and/or psychological health of the person.

Although there are highly sophisticated tests, such as neuroimaging (brain scans and similar), which allow us to visualise the biological changes that occur when an addiction develops, it is important to emphasise that the definitive diagnosis is always made clinically, in other words, via an interview with the patient.

Once the disease has been diagnosed, it is important to assess the impact it has on the various areas of the person’s life, especially at the organic, psychological, and social levels. Again, this assessment is based primarily on the interview with the patient and the people around them, as well as the analyses and other complementary tests when appropriate.

Substantiated information by:

Antoni Gual Solé
Clara Oliveras Salvà
Hugo López Pelayo
Magalí Andreu
Mireia Graell Gabriel
Pablo Barrio Giménez
Silvia Mondón

Published: 16 September 2019
Updated: 16 September 2019

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