Are you confused about whether you meet the criteria for a substance use disorder? Don’t worry; you’re not alone! The wealth of addiction information on the Internet can feel overwhelming, and at times, contradictory. Some of the questions on the diagnostic questionnaires, for example, can seem so broad they may appear to apply to nearly everyone. You may read questions like “Have you ever experienced a blackout as a result of your drinking?” or “Has your drinking/using ever caused problems in your life?” and scoff. Because a lot of people experience blackouts, no? Indeed, research suggests half of all college students have. And how do you define a “problem” anyway? Is losing your wallet at the bar a problem? Or what about a hangover that causes you to call in sick at work? Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes people overindulge and make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they’re “alcoholics” or “drug addicts”, right?

AA meeting chairs

“Do you have a drinking problem?” The only person who can answer that question is you!

The answer is both yes and no. Some people may go through stages in life where they abuse alcohol or drugs—whether it be in the wild days of their youth or as a result of a particular traumatic life event. During this time, it’s not unheard of for some of these people to meet a few of the criteria of a substance use disorder, including increased tolerance. Eventually, however, the majority of these alcohol or drug abusers will move through their abuse stage and revert back to occasional or recreational use without developing an irreversible substance use disorder. A small percentage of the population (about 10 percent), however, won’t transition out of this self-destructive stage and will continue to heavily abuse substances to the point where they become emotionally, mentally and physically dependent and may need to attend a drug and alcohol treatment program. This not their fault, however, as addiction is a brain disease and is caused by a number of factors that are beyond a person’s control, like genetics, for instance, or early childhood trauma.

Do you have a drinking problem?

Determining which group you fall into is something only you can decide. An addiction specialist can give you their expert opinion, but ultimately only you know if you have a drinking problem. Dr. Mel Pohl, Chief Medical Officer at Las Vegas Recovery Center, recommends that those concerned about their drinking should take a look at the MAST (Michigan Alcoholism Screen Test), which has a self-scoring point system that can be helpful.

30 Detailed Signs, According to People in Recovery

In order to provide further help, we’ve compiled a list of signs and symptoms that go beyond the basic questions to help you ascertain whether or not the problem you have is significant enough for you to need professional help.

Tiffany, Clinical Associate at Las Vegas Recovery Center

Tiffany, Clinical associate at LVRC

Tiffany asks, “When you use, do you feel unstoppable?”

  1. Do you use drugs or alcohol to help relieve emotional pain and stress?
  2. Is “one drink” never enough?
  3. Have you been arrested as a result of your drug or alcohol use?
  4. Have you repeatedly tried and failed to control your using?
  5. Do you joke around with friends that you’re a “functioning addict/alcoholic”?
  6. Do you use or drink alone so that you don’t have to “share”?
  7. Do you rarely make it anywhere on time because you’ve just stopped caring?
  8. Do you rarely show up for holidays with family members? Especially if you know ahead of time that you won’t be able to drink/use around them?
  9. Do you find yourself lying about everything (even little things that don’t matter)?
  10. Are substances the most important thing in your life right now?
  11. When you use, do you feel unstoppable?

Clinical Associate at Las Vegas Recovery Center

  1. Do you constantly worry about where your next drink or drug is coming from?
  2. Are you over-joyed when you wake up in the morning and realize you still have a little left over from the night before?
  3. Have you gone into debt (massive or minor) just to get high?
  4. Have you ever put drugs or alcohol before your loved ones’ physical or emotional wellbeing?

Ari, C.

Everyone draws their own line as to what is or is not “normal drinking/using”. I think that if you have thoughts that you might have a problem, you probably do. Ask yourself:

  1. Are you using to change the way you feel?
  2. Are you using because you cannot cope with life?
  3. Are you using because it frees you to be a better or different person?

From my experience, these are all classic reasons why addicts use.

Dan Mager, author at Central Recovery Press

I recommend looking at the CAGE questionnaire, which I’ve summarized below:

  1. Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your using/drinking?
  2. Have you gotten angry if friends or family when people suggested you cut down?
  3. Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking or using?
  4. Have you ever relied on the “hair of the dog” to get yourself together after the night before?

Paul Hinshaw, Counselor at Las Vegas Recovery Center


Paul Hinshaw, alcohol rehab counselor

Paul asks, “Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to drink or use?”

  1. Are you unwilling to consider other people’s points of view when it comes to your drinking or using?
  2. Have you ever noticed yourself minimizing the problems your drinking or using has caused?
  3. Do you ever add other drugs to enhance the effects of alcohol? Like Xanax, for example?
  4. Do you find it difficult to communicate your feelings or talk about your relationships?
  5. Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to drink or use?
  6. If you found out the person you were dating didn’t drink alcohol, would that be a deal breaker for you?
  7. Do you think it’s important to drink with dinner because it “enhances the meal”? Do you find it difficult to enjoy your food without alcohol?
  8. When you compare how you look now with photos taken of you a few years ago, does it seem like you’ve aged rather quickly?
  9. Do you regularly find yourself feeing uncreative, uninspired and “stuck”?
  10. Does it feel like your life lacks joy?