Diagnosing Addiction

Addiction is a chronic condition that may occur as a result of the long-term use of alcohol or drugs. People with an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is causing problems for themselves and others.

The cause of addiction is unknown, but some people inherit genes that make them more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Another possible explanation is that those who witness addiction, especially in their parents, are more likely to develop their own addictions.

In addition, long-term drug or alcohol use may cause changes in the brain that reinforce a person’s dependence on the substance, making it more difficult to quit.

Symptoms

Anyone who is admitted to NYU Langone’s Tisch Hospital or has surgery in any NYU Langone facility is screened for addiction, alcoholism, and withdrawal symptoms, which vary depending on the type of substance to which a person is addicted. This is done to prevent adverse reactions to medications and excessive bleeding, which can be a complication of surgery.

Common withdrawal symptoms among alcohol and drug users include tremors, irritability, anxiety, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, chills, insomnia, and restlessness.

To diagnose alcohol or drug addiction, NYU Langone doctors perform a physical examination, take a medical history, and conduct a toxicology screening.

Medical History

The doctor asks about the person’s history of alcohol and drug use and any emotional concerns that may have occurred while using drugs or alcohol. The doctor also wants to know about any legal issues the person may be having or any difficulties at work, school, or home.

The answers to these questions can indicate whether a person is dependent on a substance and, if so, the severity of the addiction.

Toxicology Screening

The laboratory tests used in toxicology screening help to determine the type and estimated number of drugs a person is taking. A simple blood test or urine test at the time of hospitalization can be used to check for the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body.

Next Steps

Based on the results of the diagnostic evaluation, the person and his or her family decide if they’d like to schedule a consultation with an NYU Langone specialist to discuss treatment. This often includes inpatient treatment and psychotherapy at a trusted facility.

NYU Langone clinicians offer psychotherapy and can help a person who is addicted find an appropriate treatment program.

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