Abuse vs. Dependence

When an individual has a problem with drugs or alcohol, many people may be tempted to jump immediately to the assumption of substance abuse. The majority of public awareness campaigns focus on the signs of addiction. While it's true that addiction is dangerous and that it's important to be able to spot it and seek help if necessary, it's also true that addiction is not the only explanation for a drug or alcohol problem. Learning how to recognize drug or alcohol abuse versus dependence can lead to more effective treatments and enhance understanding about the impact of drugs on the body and mind.

Substance Abuse Versus Dependence: Why the Distinction Is Important

The common element of both addiction and dependence is a steady presence of drugs or alcohol. However, substance abuse or addiction refers to an intense psychological need to continue using drugs or to replace life priorities with the pursuit of the next high. Substance dependence, in contrast, refers to the body's physical dependence on the drug to avoid unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. Dependence may be an element of addiction, but addiction without dependence is relatively rare. One of the most common ways dependence develops is in patients taking prescribed medicines, such as opioids. They may be unable to quit immediately, as their bodies have become used to the presence of the drug, and so may need to adhere to a doctor's directions on how to taper away from use.

What's the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Dependence?

When it comes to alcohol abuse vs. alcohol dependence, the dividing line between the two may be found in how the individual perceives alcohol. Dependence may develop after prolonged drinking, increasing the user's tolerance and producing symptoms of withdrawal if alcohol is not present in the body. Alcohol abuse refers to the tendency to drink more frequently than even dependence requires, coupled with a habit of prioritizing alcohol over friends, family, and daily responsibilities. Concretely differentiating between alcohol abuse versus dependence requires talking to the individual in question and noting their day-to-day drinking habits. If an individual spends much of their time pursuing alcohol to avoid withdrawal, despite wanting to quit, it may be a sign of alcohol dependency. If the individual's alcohol use has escalated to the point of severely negative impacts on their work, social life, and familial relationships, the dependency may have evolved into a case of abuse.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependence: What to Do When You Know

There are many guides available to help you learn to distinguish the different characteristics of alcohol or substance abuse versus dependence. In the case of substance dependence, an individual may need the care of a doctor or a facility with the ability to provide a medically assisted detox. Both options will allow the individual to remain safe and comfortable as they wean off of the drug in question. In the case of substance abuse, more extensive work may be required. They may need to check into an inpatient or outpatient addiction recovery program. In rehab, they will be able to get sober and benefit from addiction counseling in an encouraging, monitored environment.

If you're having trouble telling the difference between alcohol abuse and dependence or you suspect that you or a friend may be suffering from one of these afflictions, BetterAddictionCare can help you speak with a counselor and find the right treatment program. We can also connect you with cost-effective, successful recovery options nationwide. Call today or fill out our contact form for more information on professional treatment options near you.

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