What’s the Difference Between Drug Use, Drug Abuse, Drug Dependence and Drug Addiction?

Understanding the Different Meanings of Common Addiction Terms

Many people tend to stigmatize drug use disorders. They simply assume the person caught in the grip of drug addiction should merely show some willpower and quit. Those people might not recognize that drug abuse and drug addiction are separate terms that describe different aspects of substance use.

To destigmatize addiction, it’s important to properly understand some of the terms used to describe various aspects of use and addiction.

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What Is Drug Use?

Drug use is the act of taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Not all drug use is harmful, and not all alcohol consumption is negative.

Taking prescription drugs exactly as a doctor prescribed them can be beneficial for treating various conditions. For example, taking prescription painkiller medications to treat acute pain following surgery can help in the short term.

Likewise, alcohol consumption is accepted in several social situations. Alcohol is a legal substance and, when consumed in moderation, shouldn’t cause serious problems.

However, taking prescription medications in ways that were not prescribed by a doctor, taking illicit street drugs for recreational purposes, or drinking to excess to become intoxicated can turn from drug use into drug abuse.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab today at 877.969.1993 to learn how we can help.

What Is Drug Abuse?

The term drug abuse is commonly thought of as describing the over-use or heavy use of any psychoactive substance. For example, taking any prescription medications for recreational purposes or taking them in any way other than was prescribed by a doctor could be considered drug abuse.

However, drug abuse is also the term that describes a range of different problems that arise due to intensive substance use. Continued drug or alcohol abuse can interfere with various aspects of the person’s life and cause serious impairments.

Examples of such impairments might include:

  • Recurring drug use in dangerous conditions, such as driving while under the influence
  • Legal problems relating to substance use, including arrests for drug use or possession, or drink driving charges
  • Poor performance at work or school, or inability to keep up with work or family obligations as a result of substance use
  • Continued use of drugs or alcohol, despite experiencing adverse effects, such as problems in social or family situations

What Is Drug Dependence?

Drug dependence is the term used when a person’s continued drug abuse has caused certain changes in their brain chemistry that result in the body requiring ongoing use of the substance to continue functioning normally.

While using drugs or alcohol, the brain attempts to counteract the substance’s effects by releasing various hormones or neurotransmitters. After some time, the brain becomes accustomed to the constant presence of the substance in the body and becomes unable to produce those hormones unless it receives the stimulus from ongoing use.

Eventually, the body comes to rely on the continued supply of the substance. If the person tries to stop, the brain goes into overdrive, which manifests as withdrawal symptoms. Many people with drug dependence may relapse and return to substance use to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain characterized by occasional relapses. Common behaviors associated with drug addiction include:

  • Compulsive use of drugs even after adverse reactions or harm
  • Inability to stop taking drugs, even after multiple failed attempts to quit
  • Intense cravings
  • Tolerance, or needing to take increasing doses to achieve the same effects that used to be reached with much less
  • Emergence of withdrawal symptoms if drug use stops suddenly

Understanding more about some of the terms surrounding drug use can go a long way towards destigmatizing addiction and substance use disorders. The medical experts at WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab can help patients learn the root causes of their addictions and find solutions to the dependence. Contact us today or visit any of our Florida locations to learn more about how addiction impacts the body.

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

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.