The Difference Between Drug Abuse and Addiction

There is a difference between drug abuse and addiction, but the distinction can be difficult to ascertain. Having a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol doesn’t necessarily comprise addiction, although it may accompany it. Addiction itself is a compulsion to use alcohol or drugs regardless of the many negative effects that it has on an addict’s life. The addict cannot stop using drugs or alcohol without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When  the individual continues to use drugs or alcohol long-term, or takes high doses, their body will begin to build up a tolerance to the substance. To achieve the “high” and other effects of drugs or alcohol, the addict will have to consume more of the substance than before. The regular dose that the person was taking will not affect the body in the same way as before. Tolerance then becomes an escalating misuse of drugs or alcohol until the individual is finally addicted.

Defining Abuse and Addiction

Drug abuse is perceived to be the chronic abuse of drugs or alcohol that is not as damaging as addiction, but this is not always true. Chronic substance abuse can be just as devastating as addiction. Professionals define drug abuse as having one or more specific issues within one year. These issues are:

  1. Experiencing legal problems due to drug abuse or behaviors that are expressed while under the influence.
  2. The inability to meet obligations regarding family life, school or work, and the inability to manage responsibilities.
  3. Causing physical harm to others that is a direct cause of an individual’s substance abuse.
  4. The continued use of substances regardless of the many problems they create.

Addiction is defined by professionals as having three or more of the following issues within one year:

  1. Experiencing withdrawal when the substance is not taken.
  2. Having to increase the dosage of drugs or alcohol to achieve the same effect as before.
  3. Losing interest in things that you once enjoyed.
  4. Withdrawing from family and friends.
  5. Focusing mainly on obtaining, using and recovering from drugs or alcohol.
  6. The inability to stop using drugs or alcohol despite trying to cut down or totally stop.
  7. The continued use of substances despite the many problems that they create.

How Addiction Occurs

Addiction develops over time. The user will build up a tolerance to the substance, start to have cravings for the substance and experience problems related to the use of the substance. Drug abuse differs from dependence in one respect; the user is able to stop using the drug or alcohol for long periods of time. Addiction is the inability to stop using drugs or alcohol. Ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol can lead to the user eventually becoming addicted. The continuous use of substances to deal with stress or anger, manage emotions, or alleviate mental health symptoms can create psychological dependence. The user will begin to believe that they cannot function normally without the use of the substance.

Effects of Addiction

Addiction to drugs or alcohol will interfere with the demands of family obligations, work and social relationships. Every aspect of the addict’s life will be affected by their disease. The individual may become estranged from their family and friends and often find themselves isolated and lonely. They may begin to have financial setbacks that can lead to homelessness. Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol can be overwhelming to the addict and lead them to commit illegal acts to obtain money for more drugs or alcohol. This in turn could lead to jail time and steep fines.

Another adverse effect is the deterioration of the user both physically and psychologically. Addiction places a person in an altered state of consciousness where they do not properly respond to hunger or thirst. Many addicts neglect their health and become malnourished, leading to the development of illness. Psychological aspects of drug dependence may include: anxiety, depression, panic attacks, shame, guilt, feelings of hopelessness and despair. As the person falls deeper into addiction, the worse thier physical and mental state will become, and it may lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Anyone who suffers from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction can receive the professional help they need and begin on the road to recovery. There are different treatment programs that are quite effective in addressing and treating both problems.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.