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Drug Abuse vs Drug Addiction: How Far Is Too Far?

People often use the terms drug abuse and drug addiction interchangeably, not realizing they have distinct meanings. Many people may experiment with illicit drugs and never develop a full addiction. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 50% of Americans aged 12 and older reported using illegal drugs at least once in their lifetime, whereas about 25% of illegal drug users have a substance use disorder.

It’s possible to abuse drugs without becoming addicted to them, but in some cases, repeated drug abuse leads to a physical dependence on the substance. It’s a subtle difference, but understanding how to spot it can help someone before it’s too late. Learn more about the differences between drug abuse and addiction so you or your loved one can get needed help.

What Is Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is the use of illegal substances or prescription drugs for purposes other than what they’re intended for.

Illegal Substances

Common illegal substances include:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines

Prescription Medications

Individuals who abuse other drugs may seek prescription medications, such as opioid painkillers. Prescription drug misuse involves taking the substance in a different way from your health care provider’s instructions, such as:

  • Taking medication prescribed for someone else
  • Consuming higher doses than prescribed
  • Using the medicine for other purposes, such as getting high
  • Taking the medicine differently than you’re supposed to, such as crushing a pill to snort it rather than swallowing it

Occasional drug use doesn’t necessarily lead to drug dependency or indicate a larger drug problem. However, repeated substance abuse can have negative consequences on a person’s life, such as an increased risk for mental health problems and physical, social or professional issues. Long-term drug abuse can also lead to addiction.

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What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex, chronic disease in which an individual has developed a physical or psychological substance dependency. Repeated drug use can change a person’s brain, leading to the development of a substance addiction.

How Addiction Happens

Because of the adverse effects drug addiction can have on the brain, it’s considered a mental health disorder and known as a relapsing disease, meaning an individual in recovery is at risk of taking drugs again. Withdrawal symptoms may also occur if drug addicts stop taking a specific drug.

Substance use disorders will look different for everyone. A combination of genetic, developmental and environmental factors and family history of addiction can also influence whether someone who abuses drugs will develop a substance addiction.

The four C’s are used to define drug addiction:

  • Compulsive urge to take drugs
  • Intense cravings
  • Continued use despite harmful consequences
  • Loss of control over a drug or alcohol addiction

How to Tell the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Addiction

Developed by the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) provides lists of symptoms for mental health conditions such as drug addiction. To accurately identify an addiction, look for these symptoms:

  • Using a drug in large quantities or longer than intended
  • Unsuccessfully attempting to quit
  • Continuing to use the drug despite persistent social life problems
  • Developing a tolerance for the drug
  • Experiencing strong urges or drug cravings
  • Cutting back on activities because of drug use
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using or needing the drug to relieve those symptoms

While the DSM doesn’t differentiate drug abuse vs. drug addiction, it classifies substance use disorder into three categories from mild to severe, depending on how many symptoms are present. Six or more usually indicates a severe drug or alcohol addiction.

Should You Seek Treatment for Drug Abuse or Addiction?

The subtle difference between drug or alcohol abuse and addiction makes it difficult to know when a treatment program may be necessary. Before seeking treatment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel a loss of control over your drug or alcohol use?
  • Are you physically dependent on the substance?
  • Have you tried to quit but were unsuccessful?
  • Do you need to increase the dosage to get the same effects?
  • Has your drug use led to legal problems?

If the answer is yes, you may need professional help. Treatment programs in Morriston Florida include medication, counseling, group therapies, family therapy, equine therapy, sound therapy or support groups. Many types of treatment programs, including outpatient, partial hospitalization and inpatient treatment, are also available.

Help Is Available for Substance Abuse

If you or one of your family members is struggling with addiction, you’re not alone. Transformations at Mending Fences offers a range of services, from individual treatment to group sessions, to help individuals take their lives back from addiction.

Contact us at (888) 995-6013 to speak with our admissions specialists and start your new life today.