Examples of Substance Abuse vs. Dependence and Addiction

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Understanding examples of substance abuse and how it can lead to addiction and dependence is important for deciding what kind of help you need.

It can be challenging to find accurate, concise information about substance abuse. These examples of substance abuse, addiction, and dependence will help you understand what these are, what causes them, and how they’re treated.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is the act of using any psychoactive substance in a way that causes problems in your life. Examples of substance abuse-related problems include:

  • Legal troubles, like DUI.
  • Financial problems related to buying drugs or losing your job because of your use.
  • Relationship problems with friends, family members, or co-workers.
  • Health problems like frequent illnesses or symptoms of mental illness like depression or anxiety.
  • Problems related to engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence, such as having unprotected sex.

The most common examples of substance abuse are binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, and using illegal drugs.

Binge drinking is the act of drinking enough alcohol in two hours to bring your blood alcohol level up to .08 percent. For women, this is typically four drinks, and for men, it’s usually five.

Prescription drug abuse is the act of using any prescription drugs in a way other than as prescribed by a doctor. Abusing prescription drugs is illegal and dangerous.

Illegal drug abuse is the act of using any illegal substance, which can lead to serious legal and health issues.

Substance abuse is not the same as addiction or dependence.

Abuse vs Addiction

Any of the above examples of substance abuse can lead to addiction, which is characterized by compulsive use of a substance despite the negative consequences it causes. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol will continue to chronically abuse them even as their life falls apart around them.

Addiction is a disease that changes the functions and structures of the brain and affects the way you think and behave. Addiction is chronic, which means that there is no cure, but it can be sent into remission. It’s also progressive, which means that without help, an addiction will typically get worse.

Treating an addiction requires professional treatment that helps you delve into the underlying causes of the addiction and change the way you think and behave.

Abuse vs Dependence

Abuse and dependence are also not the same thing. Dependence is a physical reliance on drugs or alcohol characterized by withdrawal symptoms that occur when you stop using a substance.

Dependence occurs as your body develops a tolerance to drugs or alcohol. This happens because your brain is changing the way it functions in order to compensate for the presence of the substance. At some point, brain function may shift so that it operates more comfortably when drugs or alcohol are present than when they’re not.

Treating dependence is a matter of going through detox, which is the process of allowing all traces of a substance to leave your body. Medical detox through a high quality treatment program uses a range of medications to help make withdrawal more comfortable.

Causes of Substance Abuse

There are a number of reasons why people abuse drugs and alcohol. Some of the most common causes of substance abuse include:

  • Chronic stress.
  • Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
  • A history of trauma.
  • Family dysfunction.

Understanding the underlying causes of substance abuse, and knowing difference between substance abuse vs dependence vs addiction can help you determine the kind of help you need to recover.

A high quality treatment program helps you address your substance abuse, addiction, or dependence to improve your quality of life and restore your sense of good health and well-being.