The Difference Between Use, Abuse, and Dependence on Drugs

Understanding the Main Differences Between Use, Abuse, and Dependence on Drugs

Drug abuse statistics reveal an alarming fact about substance abuse: over 20 million people in America used drugs or alcohol to the extent of a substance use disorder in 2014. Substance use disorder includes the abuse, dependence and addiction to drugs. Addiction and dependence on drugs carry with it many severe side effects that have an impact on a person’s mental well-being and health. The behavior of an addict or substance abuser can affect their social, occupational and family life until nearly every aspect of their life is affected.

But what is the difference between use, abuse and dependence on drugs? In this article, we will explore the science behind substance use disorder.

Substance Use and Abuse

The only area where a person can be considered to just use a substance is when a doctor has prescribed a medication and the prescription is followed exactly. However, dependence on drugs can form even from proper use of prescription drugs in some cases.

In general, all use of drugs in a way that was not prescribed, or illicit drug use can be seen as substance abuse. There is no medical benefit to such use – only negative side effects that continue to compound as abuse continues.

Dependence on Drugs versus Abuse

There is a very fine line between substance abuse and dependence. Some people are more prone to addiction and dependence than others, in which case abuse very quickly evolves into dependence. If a physically addictive substance such as opioids, cocaine or meth is abused, dependence can form in just a few weeks, at which point the person becomes reliant on continually taking the substance in order to function properly.

Drug Addiction Definition

Oftentimes, there is little distinction made between dependence on drugs and an addiction. In most cases, the two go hand-in-hand when a physically addictive drug is taken by a person who uses the substance as a way to deal with emotional issues. The drug addiction definition is based on the person’s intent: if drugs are used for psychological reasons, even a non-addictive substance can be the cause of an addiction. Dependence on the other hand can form even when a prescription to an addictive drug is followed without any psychological issues present. Those who are dependent on a substance continue to take the drug because they feel physically compelled to, usually by the withdrawal symptoms that occur with drug dependence.

If a person uses an addictive substance for psychological reasons, they can then become addicted and dependent, which can be an arduous task to overcome.

Drug Addiction Treatment

The drug addiction treatment offered at rehab centers is aimed at helping those who have become addicted to a drug, a person abusing drugs and those who have become physically dependent on a substance.

Any substance that causes withdrawal symptoms, including all physically addictive substances, is initially treated with a medical detox. Since the symptoms of withdrawal can be excruciating to deal with, medications are provided that can eliminate certain symptoms and reduce other symptoms. Once detoxification is done, further treatment is then advised.

During the subsequent treatment, the psychological issues are dealt with through behavioral therapy. Education on the mechanisms of addiction is another important part of treatment that can benefit substance abusers, addicts and people who only became dependent on a drug. Lastly, relapse prevention skills are taught to help the recovering person recognize the relapse signs and deal with triggers in a healthy way.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.


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