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Addiction Center

Addiction Diagnosis

Months or years may go by a person accepts that s/he has a drug or addiction problem.  Similarly, family and friend members may not believe that a loved one has a substance abuse problem.  However, a caring, non-threatening, non-judgmental environment can facilitate acceptance of a substance abuse problem. Thus, it's vital to find a doctor who can interact and communicate with you in order to begin diagnosis and treatment. Seeking a diagnosis from doctors who have plenty of experience with treating substance addiction may be most effective way to begin the process.

Medical exams
Usually, it's best to consult a family doctor for an initial appointment.Then, to make a more thorough diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor/therapist who specializes in addiction.Doctors diagnose substance addiction using of a number of different tools. A combination of questionnaires, talking with family and friends (if possible), physical examination, and testing are all ways that doctors diagnose addiction.  

Drug testing
Testing itself may be pursued to detect the presence of drugs currently in the system.  This may be done through blood, urine, or hair testing.  However, the one-time usage of a drug is not sufficient to make a diagnosis of addiction.  Additionally, hair and urine testing are not always perfect:  false positives and false negatives do occur.  

Family and friend interview
Many family physicians first become aware of a patient's substance abuse through family member. Family members frequently raise questions about erratic or significant changes in behavior. Although no one's word alone is sufficient to make a diagnosis, a family member or a friend's input to a doctor can help raise awareness to the doctor. This will allow the doctor to look more carefully for any signs of substance abuse.

Questionnaire
During an initial appointment, the doctor may inquire about how much a particular substance is taken, how frequently, under what conditions (e.g. stress, peer pressure, etc.), and the consequences of taking this substance (e.g. arrest, violence, decreased work performance, etc.).   The doctor may try a variety of interview or written questionnaire techniques in order to get this information.  This technique of self-reported information is perhaps most helpful for making a diagnosis, as physical exams and testing may not be sufficient to make a diagnosis.  However, even when confronted with a definitive diagnosis by a medical doctor, it is not unusual for a patient to express surprise or to still deny that there is a problem.  

Physical exams
Physical exams may not reveals symptoms of diagnosis unless a person is currently under the influence, or if there are tell-tell signs of substance abuse.  The smell of alcohol on the breath, damaged nasal mucosa, or the exhibition of needle injections may be helpful in the diagnostic process. However, these signs are not always present, particularly in drugs other than alcohol or non-inject able drugs.  

There are other physical symptoms of long term addiction, but these are usually not exhibited during the early stages of drug abuse or addiction (e.g. weight loss).  Perhaps the most helpful physical symptom to look for will be changes of the eyes:  red eyes, miosis, etc.  

After a diagnosis has been made, treatment can begin.  To learn more about substance abuse therpaies and drug addiction treatment options, click here for information.

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