Though we tend to perceive every type of drug consumption as the same, it’s important to establish some differences between drug addiction and drug abuse. Learning to distinguish them, attributing a name and a meaning to each type of consumption will help us understand and identify if you or a loved one is suffering from either drug abuse or drug addiction.
How a person relates to drugs can be as diverse as the type of consumers that exist. However, we can establish three types of drug consumption: use, abuse, and addiction.
Drug use can be defined as a pattern of consumption in which, whether it is because of the quantity, frequency of consumption or the physical, social or psychological conditions of a person, there are no immediate consequences over the consumer or their environment.
Drug abuse is the repeated consumption of a substance that causes damage to the consumer, negatively impacts their relationships and causes difficulties in their social and professional life. However, abuse doesn’t necessarily involve tolerance to the substance, withdrawal symptom or compulsive use.
According to the World Health Organization, drug addiction is a disease that affects and changes the brain’s chemistry, characterized by the compulsive use and search for drugs despite its harmful consequences.
Drug consumption becomes the center and priority of the addict’s life, putting it before other things they used to consider important. They build tolerance for the drug and need increasing amounts in order to obtain the desired effect, and when the drug is taken from them they experience withdrawal syndrome.
With these definitions in mind, here are 4 facts that can help you understand the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction.
1. You can be abusing drugs without being addicted to them
Drug abuse refers to an extreme desire to obtain and use a substance; it is the generic term for the abuse of any substance – painkillers, sedatives, cocaine, crystal meth, even alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine, among many others.
On the other hand, addiction happens when a person is unable to stop using the substance despite numerous attempts to do so. Though there is a fine line between these two concepts, a person can be abusing drugs but be able to quit them by themselves at any time, while someone who is addicted to drugs, even if they want to quit, are normally unable to do it without professional help.
2. Addiction takes over your entire life, abuse means you still have control
This is the main difference between drug addiction and abuse. When you’re abusing, chances are you may still be functional, and though your relationships and other aspects of your life may be disrupted, you’re able to learn from the consequences and make positive changes to your behavior. This doesn’t mean in any way that abuse is good. You’re still putting in danger your physical, emotional and mental health, the risk of infectious diseases, overdose and organ damage exists even without addiction, besides the legal implications involving drug use.
Drug addiction, on the other hand, is when you’ve completely lost control of your life. When a person is addicted, they spend all their time and money looking to obtain the substance regardless of the legal or economic implications, the things they used to care about the most are no longer as important, and it has destroyed several relationships and cost them many opportunities.
Even if the addict knows their behavior has caused all this damage, they’re not able to change in order to improve their situation. It is essential to stress that their inability to quit using drugs isn’t because they lack willpower or they have low morals; as we established before, addiction is a disease and it affects the brain in such a way that it prevents them from stopping the abuse on their own.
3. Abuse precedes addiction
You don’t develop an addiction overnight, it takes time to build a tolerance to a substance, start experiencing intense cravings for the drug and having problems related to the use of said substance. This means that, though abuse doesn’t always lead to addiction, there is usually abuse before addiction.
Ongoing use of a substance creates physical dependency (discomfort and pain when the drug is taken away, also known as withdrawal syndrome), as well as a psychological dependency (the belief that without the use of the substance they are unable to function properly).
4. Abuse and addiction are treated differently
Seeing that usually a person who’s abusing drugs is able to stop using them after realizing the negative consequences it has brought to their lives, like maybe a disease, a lost professional opportunity or a ruined relationship, drug abuse “treatment” doesn’t involve professional help and with support and encouragement from loved ones, engaging in different activities so as to distract themselves and exercising willpower can be enough.
In contrast, the only way to overcome drug addiction is with professional treatment. Since an addict has no control over when to stop using drugs, medical intervention is required. This may involve a detox process, being an intern in a facility and attending private or group therapies for a certain amount of time.
The recovery process of an addict is long and difficult, however, with proper treatment the goal of quitting for good is something possible. Relapses are also normal during this process and they don’t always mean that the person has failed.
It is important to remember that both abuse and addiction can be very harmful, and just because you’re able to stop consuming at any time doesn’t mean you’re free from all the dangers that drug use entails, including becoming addicted at some point. If you or a loved one is showing signs of either abuse or addiction, make sure to provide them with the right kind of care as soon as possible.
Do you know any other differences between drug abuse and addiction? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.
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