Severity and Specifiers

Disorders involving use and abuse of alcohol and drugs range in severity, and so a person can be diagnosed with a “mild” form of one of these concerns, “moderate” or “severe.” Mild alcohol/drug use is characterized by a person meeting 2-3 or the previous symptoms; moderate use is meeting 4-5 symptoms, and severe use is by 6 symptoms or more.

Severity can change across time with the person either reducing or increasing the symptoms for which they meet. In the case that an individual no longer meets for a substance use disorder (e.g., if a person had a past substance use disorder but became “clean & sober”), “in early remission,” “in sustained remission,” “on maintenance therapy,” or “in a controlled environment” may be added to the diagnosis (e.g., Alcohol use disorder in sustained remission).

Substances for which a person can establish a substance use disorder:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis
  • Phencyclidine
  • Other Hallucinogen
  • Inhalants
  • Opioid
  • Sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic
  • Stimulant: Specify amphetamine or cocaine
  • Tobacco
  • Other (Unknown)


This criteria has been adapted for the 2013 DSM-5.