The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction?

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Many people mistakenly believe that “substance abuse” and “addiction” mean the same thing, when in reality they describe two different sets of behaviors. A big part of substance abuse recovery is for the patient to understand his or her relationship to a substance and recognize the effects that relationship has had in his or her life.

At Harmony Place, we want potential clients and our readers to know the difference between substance abuse and addiction, so they can better understand the treatment options available for these two stages. It’s also important to understand the links between substance abuse and addiction. Often, the former will lead to the latter.

Understanding Substance Abuse: What is the Difference Between Abuse and Addiction?

“Substance abuse” simply describes ongoing drug use despite negative consequences. A person who is abusing a substance can still withstand withdrawal and go for an extended time without another dose. Some substance abusers don’t feel withdrawal symptoms, at least not during the earliest stages of substance abuse.

Substance abuse often occurs when an individual feels as though a substance doesn’t have the same harmful and addictive effects for them as it does for the rest of the world. Everyone may process and respond to drugs differently, but there are common threads for any substance that affect everyone. A person entrenched in substance abuse may not display outward symptoms to friends and family but may cause destruction in other ways.

Signs Of Substance Abuse 

Substance abuse can negatively manifest in several ways. In many cases, the destructive effects of a substance abuse problem can be the last push a person needs to enter substance abuse treatment, but this isn’t always the case. When substance abuse leads to destruction, injury, medical emergencies, or legal trouble, it’s time for the friends and family of the person causing these issues to speak up about their concerns and encourage him or her to enter rehab.

Substance abuse can lead to serious injuries for both the abuser and the people around him or her. People who abuse different substances may cause car accidents, lash out violently, or begin suffering negative health effects from their habits. Additionally, some drugs can cause psychological disorders or exacerbate existing ones, potentially leading to self-harm and straining social ties with other people.

Legal And Financial Ruin 

One of the biggest risks of any type of substance abuse is the economic fallout it can cause. A person with a substance abuse problem may allow his or her work quality to suffer, miss deadlines, shirk important responsibilities at work, or otherwise interfere with career and job opportunities.

Over time, substance abuse worsens and may propel an individual with a habit to engage in illegal or dangerous behaviors to secure additional doses. It’s also important to remember that many addictive substances, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, are illegal. Possessing one of these substances – even a small amount – is enough to lead to serious legal ramifications like jail time, fines, and loss of privileges such as a driver’s license or child visitation rights.

The Next Stage: Addiction

Addiction is essentially the next stage following substance abuse. The major difference between abuse and addiction is that addiction entails dependency. While a person struggling with substance abuse may be able to withstand a few days or longer without another dose, a person with an addiction feels entirely consumed by the idea of the next dose. For a person with an addiction, using drugs is the top priority, and the pursuit of this goal takes precedence over every other obligation. Work, family bonds, friendships, and other relationships all take a backseat to the pursuit of the next dose.

Addiction Is A Process 

It’s important to remember that a person doesn’t simply struggle with a substance abuse problem and then suddenly become addicted. Addiction takes time, but that time varies by substance. Some drugs can lead to addiction much more quickly than others. A person who has tried to quit several times and failed every time is most likely contending with an addiction rather than a substance abuse issue.

People with addictions tend to feel hopeless. Their addictions take control of their lives and they don’t feel like the same person anymore. This sense of detachment is dangerous and feeds into patterns of addictive behavior. Another key difference between addiction and substance abuse is withdrawal. A person with an addiction will feel withdrawal symptoms more acutely than a person with a less advanced substance abuse problem. While a person with a substance abuse problem may eke out productive days without using, a person with an addiction will start feeling withdrawal symptoms often within hours of taking the most recent dose.

Chemical Dependency

Some addictions can progress to an advanced stage known as a chemical dependency. A person in this situation needs regular doses of his or her drug of choice to function in everyday life. The body has grown so dependent on the drug that the absence of it causes extreme discomfort and, in some cases, puts the person’s life at risk.

As a person uses a drug over time, he or she will inevitably start to build a tolerance for the substance, causing the effects of the same dose to diminish over time. This means that the person requires increasingly larger doses to achieve the desired results, and this process greatly contributes to chemical dependency. Eventually, tolerance builds to a point where the person must use on a consistent basis to avoid withdrawal.

The Stages Of Substance Abuse In Recovery

It’s crucial to remember that recovery is always possible with the right tools and motivation. Even severe cases of chemical dependency are treatable. The first step is acknowledging the problem exists and making a concentrated effort to address it in healthy, meaningful ways. It’s important to note that the earlier a person enters treatment, the more likely he or she will be to complete rehab and achieve sobriety. However, more advanced addictions and chemical dependencies are still treatable with medical assistance, comprehensive addiction counseling, and individualized treatment plans.

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