difference between drug abuse and drug addiction

What’s the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?

The terms drug abuse and drug addiction get thrown about a lot and most people think they are the same. However, there’s a difference between drug abuse and drug addiction

Many people experiment with drugs at some point in their lives but never go on to develop full-blown addiction. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, there are more than 30 million people worldwide with drug use disorders. 

What makes one person stop at mere experimentation and another person progress to addiction?

Understanding the subtle but very important difference between drug abuse and drug addiction is critical when you or a loved one is struggling with drug use. It is possible to abuse a drug without being addicted to it, but repeated abuse can lead to addiction.

 Sounds confusing? Read on to learn more. 

In this article, we will discuss both these conditions and the differences between them. And once you understand the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction, you’ll be better equipped to get the right kind of help.

What is Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is the use of illegal drugs or prescription or over-the-counter medications for purposes other than they are prescribed or at doses larger than prescribed.

For example, if an individual is encouraged by friends to snort Ecstasy at a party for the first time in their life, it is drug abuse since Ecstasy is an illegal substance. 

When a college student obtains the stimulant medication Adderall from a friend to enhance performance during exam week, it qualifies as drug abuse since this is a prescription medication meant to be used only by the person to whom it is prescribed. 

When someone uses a larger or more frequent dose of prescription pain pills than recommended by their doctor, it is drug abuse. 

However, the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction is that none of these situations is necessarily drug addiction.

 One-time experimentation with an illegal drug or the occasional misuse of the prescription medication does not always lead to a physical dependence on the drug. However, repeated drug abuse can lead to physical, psychological, social, and professional problems, and ultimately escalate into drug addiction.

difference between drug abuse and drug addiction

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex, chronic, relapsing disease in which there is a physical and/or psychological dependence on drugs.

The difference between drug abuse and drug addiction is in the severity of symptoms and the lack of control over drug use. 

For example, drug addicts compulsively seek drugs and continue their use despite harmful consequences on their health, work, and relationships. Drug addiction is associated with long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered a mental health disorder as much as it is a physical disorder.

 Drug addiction is more severe than drug abuse, and is characterized by four C’s: 

  1. Loss of control over drug use
  2. Cravings for the drug
  3. Compulsive use of the drug
  4. Continued use despite harmful consequences.

Are you beginning to better grasp the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction? There are a couple of other terms in use that you should know about. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States, a leading authority on substance use disorders, uses the terms drug use, drug misuse, and drug addiction.

  • Drug use is the use of any illegal drug, for example, smoking pot or using heroin.
  • Drug misuse is the term for improper use of a prescription medication or repeated use of an illegal substance for its euphoric or reality-altering effects.
  • Drug addiction is at the severe end of the substance use disorder spectrum. It is characterized by chemical changes in the brain’s inhibition and reward centres, leading to behavioural changes, whereby the individual is unable to control impulses to use drugs despite negative consequences.

 Did you notice something interesting?The term drug misuse is more or less equivalent to drug abuse. However, some professionals avoid using the term drug abuse because it is shaming and creates a stigma that prevents people from seeking help

The term drug misuse, on the other hand, simply suggests that a person’s drug use is improper and is causing harm to themselves and their family and friends. This terminology is something to keep in mind if you are supporting a spouse in recovery, for example.

DSM Criteria for Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction

DSM is an acronym for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual developed by the American Psychiatric Association. Clinicians all over the world use this manual to diagnose mental health conditions such as drug addiction. 

Interestingly, DSM does not place substance abuse and substance dependence in separate categories. In other words, drug abuse and drug addiction are placed in a single category with three sub-classifications – mild, moderate, and severe. 

So, how do healthcare professionals tell the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction? 

The DSM manual lists the symptoms associated with substance use disorders. These symptoms are classified into four main groups:

  • impaired control over drug use
  • social impairment due to drug use
  • risky use of drugs putting life and limb in danger
  • pharmacological symptoms such as tolerance and withdrawal

 In the next section, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the symptoms used to diagnose substance use disorders, a category that includes both drug abuse and drug addiction.

what is the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction

How to Tell the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?

According to the DSM, there are a handful of diagnostic criteria, which, if present in the preceding 12-month period, indicate a problematic pattern of drug use

Take a look at these symptoms and see if you or a loved one has one or more of them:

  • Using a substance in larger amounts or for longer than intended.
  • Having a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or quit drug use.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of the drug.
  • Experiencing cravings or strong urges to use the drug.
  • Using the drug repeatedly, leading to a failure to fulfill responsibilities at home and in the workplace.
  • Continuing to use the drug despite recurrent or persistent problems in relationships and social life.
  • Giving up or cutting back on recreational, social, and professional activities because of drug use.
  • Repeatedly using the drug in physically hazardous situations.
  • Continuing use of the drug despite recurrent physical and psychological problems caused or exacerbated by the drug.
  • Experiencing tolerance to the drug, which is a diminished effect with the same amount of the drug over time or the need for an increased amount of the drug to achieve the desired level of intoxication.
  • Experiencing characteristic withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug or needing to use the drug to relieve or avoid symptoms.

As noted, DSM does not report a difference between drug abuse and drug addiction. Instead, it classifies substance use disorder in three sub-categories ranging from mild to severe

If you want to know the severity of a drug problem in yourself or a loved one, count the number of symptoms present from the list above within 12 months:

  • If two or three symptoms are present, the substance use disorder is considered mild.
  • If four or five symptoms are present, it is considered moderate.
  • If six or more symptoms are present, it is considered severe.

 This is the criteria healthcare professionals use to assess the severity of the problem and tell the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction

But how can you know if you need professional help?

Do I Need Help for Drug Abuse or Addiction?

The difference between drug abuse and drug addiction is very slight and it can be difficult to know what’s going on. 

Not sure if you need professional help for your cocaine problem? Don’t know if your heroin problem is abuse or addiction? 

Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do you feel you have lost control over drug use?
  • Is there a physical dependence on the drug?
  • Do you need more and more of the drug to get the same effects?
  • Do you experience specific physical and psychological symptoms when not using?
  • Have you tried to quit but feel powerless to do so?
  • Have you got into legal trouble with law enforcement due to your drug use?
  • Does your life revolve around obtaining, using, and recovering from drug use?

 If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions, it indicates a serious problem that requires immediate help. Qualified addiction treatment experts at Rosglas Recovery can conduct a formal assessment of symptoms to find out the severity of the problem in yourself or a loved one. Our staff have vast experience in substance use disorders to know the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction and prescribe the appropriate treatments.

Drug abuse and addiction affect multiple aspects of a person’s life and require a holistic approach to treatment. We offer a range of one-on-one therapy and group therapy programs for the most effective and sustained results. 

To learn more about our treatments, give us a call at +353 1 458 3575 to reach our office in Ireland or +1 646 918 8223 to reach our office in New York. All calls are private and confidential. You can also email us at info@rosglasrecovery.com. Our team of specialists is available 24/7 to answer your questions.

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