Adapted from WHO ICD-10 Criteria
The ICD-10 Classification
of Mental and Behavioural Disorders was published by the World Health Organization in 1992.
A cluster of physiological, behavioural, and cognitive phenomena in which the use of a substance takes on a much higher
priority for a given individual than other behaviours that once had greater value. A central descriptive characteristic of
the dependence syndrome is the desire (often strong, sometimes overpowering) to take psychoactive drugs (which may or may
not have been medically prescribed), alcohol, or tobacco. There may be evidence that return to substance use after a period
of abstinence leads to more rapid reappearance of other features of the syndrome than occurs with nondependent individuals.
Diagnostic guidelines - A definite diagnosis of dependence should usually be made only if three or more of the following
have been present together at some time during the previous year:
(a) a strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance;
(b) difficulties in controlling substance-taking in terms of its onset, termination, or levels of use;
(c) a physiological withdrawal state when substance use has ceased or been reduced, as evidenced by: the characteristic
withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or use of the same (or a closely related) substance with the intention of relieving
or avoiding withdrawal symptoms;
(d) evidence of tolerance, such that increased doses of the psychoactive substance are required to achieve effects originally
produced by lower doses (clear examples of this are found in alcohol- and opiate-dependent individuals who may take daily
doses sufficient to incapacitate or kill nontolerant users;
(e) progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of psychoactive substance use, increased amount of
time necessary to obtain or take the substance or to recover from its effects;
(f) persisting with substance use despite clear evidence of overtly harmful consequences, such as harm to the liver through
excessive drinking, depressive mood states consequent to periods of heavy substance use, or drug-related impairment of cognitive
functioning; efforts should be made to determine that the user was actually, or could be expected to be, aware of the nature
and extent of the harm.
Narrowing of the personal repertoire of psychoactive substance use has also been described as a characteristic feature
(eg. a tendency to drink alcoholic drinks in the same way on weekdays and weekends, regardless of social constraints that
determine appropriate drinking behaviour).
It is an essential characteristic of the dependence syndrome that either psychoactive substance taking or a desire to take
a particular substance should be present; the subjective awareness of compulsion to use drugs is most commonly seen during
attempts to stop or control substance use. This diagnostic requirement would exclude, for instance, surgical patients given
opioid drugs for the relief of pain, who may show signs of an opioid withdrawal state when drugs are not given but who have
no desire to continue taking drugs.
The dependence syndrome may be present for a specific substance (eg. tobacco or diazepam), for a class of substances (eg.
opioid drugs), or for a wider range of different substances (as for those individuals who feel a sense of compulsion regularly
to use whatever drugs are available and who show distress, agitation, and/or physical signs of a withdrawal state upon abstinence).