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Substance Abuse vs. Addiction: Is there a Difference?

There are many words and phrases in the English language that are used interchangeably.  They have similar meanings and convey the same message.  However there are also words that people use interchangeably that do not mean the same thing.  Though some people may not realize it, there actually is a difference between substance abuse and addiction.  Just because someone abuses drugs or alcohol does not mean that they are addicted.  But they cannot be addicted without first succumbing to substance abuse.  The difference may seem subtle, but it does exist.

What is substance abuse?

If someone abuses drugs or alcohol, it means that either they are using an illegal substance or they are using a legal substance other than how it was intended or prescribed.  People often abuse these substances in order to try to deal with stressful or emotional events in their life.  It is a choice that they make and they have control over their use.  They may only use drugs or drink every once in a while, but it is still considered substance abuse.  It is through continued use that they may lose control of their ability to choose and become addicted.

Some symptoms of substance abuse include:

  • Poor performance at work or school as a result of use.
  • Engaging in potentially dangerous activities such as drinking and driving.
  • Financial or legal problems stemming from use, such as getting arrested or going into debt.
  • Personal relationships are strained and begin to suffer but use continues anyway.

What is addiction?

Once someone has abused a drug or alcohol enough that it causes changes in the way their brain works, they have become addicted.  They no longer have control over their use and must continue in order to fulfill their need.  Many of their actions and decisions are dominated and motivated by their need to acquire and use these substances.  They may have a physical addition, a psychological addiction, or both.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction “is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug) tolerance and withdrawal.”  When a person becomes physically dependent on a substance it means that they have built up a tolerance and need increasingly larger amounts for it to have the same affect it previously had.  When they abruptly stop using the substance, they go through withdrawal.  Psychological addiction means that the person cannot control their desire to use.  It is no longer just for fun or to get high.  They depend on it and spend a lot of time figuring out how to get it.

Is addiction treatable?

Fortunately there is help for people who become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.  There are many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers that can help them get their lives back under control and live drug-free.  Through a combination of detox, counseling, and medication, they are able to overcome their addiction and learn to handle problems in a more effective way.  Recognizing the signs of abuse early on can help people to seek treatment before they become addicted.

To find out more about how you can get the help you need to overcome addiction, contact Chapters Capistrano today.  Our trained staff can help you to recognize if you have a problem and design a plan that addresses your unique needs and goals.  Take back control of your life today.