Drug Addiction, Substance Abuse

One of the most common issues encountered in the addiction treatment profession is trying to distinguish between those abusing drugs and those who are addicted to drugs. Mistaking drug addiction for drug abuse can lead to deadly consequences. Both drug abuse and drug addiction have many traits and symptoms in common, but there are a few specific signs that show when drug abuse has crossed over into drug addiction. Read and learn how to differentiate between drug abuse and drug addiction.
What is Drug Abuse?
Almost every person who is addicted to drugs first began by abusing drugs. Abusing drugs is defined as “intentional misuse, overuse, or habitual taking of legal or illegal drugs.” With illegal drug abuse often occurs fairly fast. As the user begins to use more their tolerance increases and they require more of the substance to get ‘high’. The drug abuse may begin as a once a week occurrence and escalate to a few times a week, then becoming a daily habit. In the case of legal drugs, such as alcohol and prescription medications, the drug usage often begins moderate and may stay that way for long periods of time before reaching the abuse stage. Alcohol abuse occurs when the person starts drinking more than a mild amount, drinking to intoxication and drinking more often than usual. The CDC defines alcohol abuse as “the misuse of alcohol; drinking over 5 drinks per day.” People usually fall into prescription pill abuse through a valid prescription from the doctor. The drug abuse begins when the person begins taking the pills more frequently than prescribed or taking more pills than prescribed. When this occurs, the person often goes to get more prescriptions, extra refills, or buys the pills off the streets. All of the forms of drug abuse described have a common theme, it involves an intentional misuse or overuse of a substance to bring about intoxication or get high. People abusing drugs may even require detox or medication to come off of the drugs.
What is Drug Addiction?
Psychologists define drug addiction as a physical dependency and/or a mental obsession towards using a certain substance. In earlier posts I have defined how people with addiction become addicted to drugs; through the dopamine reward pathways and pleasure center of the brain. Basically, the brain becomes used to the chemicals and actions that the drugs have on the brain. Eventually, with chronic use, the brain starts to become dependent on the drugs and stop producing its own natural chemicals. That is why when the addicted person stops they go into withdrawals, since their brain is not producing the chemicals naturally. Most people with addiction also have a mental obsession towards the drug. This means that they spend large amounts of time and energy a.) thinking about using the drug b.) finding or obtaining the drug c.) using and intoxicated by the drug. When forced to go long periods without the drug, the addicted person often becomes irritable and thinks about the next time they will get to use.
So What’s the Difference?
There are a few characteristics that really set drug addiction apart from drug abuse. An important aspect is the physical addiction, resulting from the chronic drug abuse. When the body and brain begin to really adapt to the presence of the drug, quitting the drugs becomes much harder. Even if the person honestly wants to stop, they often experience a compulsion or insatiable urge to use the drug. If you honestly want to quit using/drinking and find that you can’t stop, you may be addicted. Also if you stop and find yourself miserable and thinking about the drug 24/7, you may be addicted. In drug abuse, if the person gets arrested or threatened to be fired for their drug use, they can moderate or stop entirely. If their spouse threatens to leave them if they don’t stop using drugs, they will be able to stop. If drugs are affecting their health, career, marriage, family, etc. they can change their habits. Someone with drug addiction may experience all those same things but will not be able to stop entirely. They may be able to quit for a week or even a month, but unless they seek help they will be unable to recover completely. In drug abuse, when the consequences of using begin to outweigh the benefits, the person will cut back or stop. They view it in a rational manner. For drug addiction, the person continues to use the drug despite the increasing consequences and view their drug usage in an irrational manner.

 Source: Newbrigde

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