What’s The Difference Between Addiction And Abuse?

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What’s The Difference Between Addiction And Abuse?

You will often see the terms substance abuse and addiction thrown around interchangeably. To the average person, these two terms may seem the same but they are actually very different ideas.

In this article, let’s talk about the difference between the two and talk about why it’s important to know how addiction is different from abuse.

What is Substance Abuse?

First, let’s discuss substance abuse by defining our terms and then seeing its peramiters.

Substance abuse is an earlier, and often milder, form of harmful alcohol or drug use. Substance abuse is often seen as something more temporary or a ‘flash in the pan’ type of moment. 

An individual may abuse the use of drugs or alcohol but this use may not have a large impact on their everyday lives. Think of binge drinking after work once or twice a week. Abuse doesn’t have the same psychological impact that addiction carries. We’ll discuss this later.

Here’s an example. If a person is stressed from work, life, school, etc., they may turn to drugs and alcohol to help relieve that stress or experience other physical or mental feelings in an effort to induce pleasure.

In this instance, the individual is abusing drugs or alcohol. This abuse could be just one time in their life or scattered over a period of time. 

So, the question becomes when does substance abuse fully turn into addiction?

What is Drug Addiction?

Addiction, on the other hand, is the continued abuse of drugs or alcohol. Addiction involves a physical and psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol. Repeated substance abuse often leads to addiction.

Once an individual becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, stopping usually becomes almost impossible. However, those who are abusing the drugs occasionally have a greater chance of being able to stop their drug or alcohol use. This, of course, doesn’t factor in the variance regarding why some people get addicted and others don’t.

Going back to our example of stress, a substance abuser may take drugs or alcohol only during extreme moments of stress. Once addiction sets in, an individual addicted to either may begin to use drugs or alcohol in just about every scenario. They have lost the power to choose. This repeated use ends up having major life impacts.

Another huge difference is the psychological element. During substance abuse, the user still has a sense of choice when partaking in either. When it comes to addiction, that element of choice is nearly thrown out as choice moves to dependence.

When Does Abuse Become Addiction?

There is no tangible and specific line that one can immediately cross that would signal substance abuse becoming an addiction, but there are some clear signs.

In the easiest terms, abuse becomes an addiction when occasional use becomes much more compulsive. “I’d like to” becomes “I need to” or “I have to.” It goes from an occasional activity to a much more frequent activity.

There are also psychological changes in the brain, long-lasting changes that have lasting effects. Some of these effects are an increased level of activity for dopamine and peptide.

In addition, abuse doesn’t come with a diagnosis while an addiction diagnosis requires a specialized and trained professional. We can all throw out a casual “he’s addicted to video games” or “she’s addicted to shopping”, but a real addiction requires an actual diagnosis from a professional.

There are also some genetic factors in addiction that may not be present in abuse. Research has shown that genetics “provide pre-existing vulnerabilities to addiction and increased susceptibility to environmental risk factors”.

Substance Abuse is Still Dangerous

Just because substance abuse isn’t as dangerous as addiction, in the long run, it can still have negative impacts on your life. 

Overdose or other physical ailments are still significant risks. Even casual substance abuse can turn into an addiction. While there are no firm statistics on what percentage of substance abusers turn into addicts, there is a high probability that many started out as irregular substance abusers.

You Can Get Help

At San Diego Sober Living, we have been serving people in the San Diego area in different stages of abuse or addiction for over 10 years. If you feel that you need to control your addiction or get your life back in control, we can help. 
Reach out to us today.

San Diego Sober Living

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At San Diego Sober Living we want to be a part of your recovery and new life. Our program offers proven treatment methods to help a person recover mentally, physically and spiritually. 

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