Distinguishing Drug Abuse From Drug Addiction

Though “drug abuse” and “drug addiction” are often used interchangeably, in reality the terms refer to two distinct behavior patterns. An individual can abuse or misuse drugs without being inevitably addicted to them. Abuse or misuse involves the use of drugs defying the culturally acceptable standards or medically prescribed doses to attain a certain effect. The substances abused may be legal, such as alcohol or prescription drugs, or illegal, like heroin and other street drugs which have no medicinal value.

On the other hand, drug addiction, or compulsive drug use, refers to an uncontrollable desire to use a drug in spite of being aware of harmful psychological and physiological effects that they can have on the body. Addiction is often characterized by an insatiable appetite for substances by increasing the dosage, leading to a complete dependence on them.

Since abuse and addiction are two distinct concepts, their causes are unique as well. Abuse is generally considered to be more complicated but it is not necessarily triggered by any motivational factor, unlike addiction which is caused by a powerful motivational force. Therefore, in most of the cases, abuse may not always result in addiction, but addiction can certainly lead to abuse.

Impact of drug abuse and addiction on the brain

It has been observed that both drug abuse and drug addiction have similar effects on mind and body. People often view abuse and addiction as a moral weakness or character flaw. One of the common myths surrounding drug use is that quitting it is directly linked to behavioral changes. In reality, addiction is a disease which alters the brain functions, hijacking the natural motivational control circuits. Thus, quitting is simply not a matter of choice or willpower. Though, the decision to use the drug initially might be voluntary, changes in the brain structure due to repeated drug use can inhibit someone’s self-control and decision-making ability, causing intense cravings.

Experts attribute the inability to refrain from drug use to these changes in the brain. However, modern medical advancements have led to the development of an array of treatment and rehabilitation options to combat the disastrous effects of addiction and help abusers take control of their lives. Studies have shown that a combination of medications and behavioral therapy can boost the recovery process with minimal withdrawal effects.

Possible reasons leading to drug abuse and addiction

For those who are dependent on illegal substances, it can be difficult to know whether they have crossed the limit. Here are some possible reasons that can trigger drug abuse or addiction:

  • Connecting socially: A strong desire driven by an urge to fit into a certain group could lead people toward drugs.
  • Dealing with problems in life: Continuous drug use can get individuals accustomed to it, and soon it might become the only way to escape from problems and challenges.
  • Using drugs to combat other issues: Serious concerns, such as panic attacks or chronic pain, can cause dependence on drugs, until people discover healthier alternative methods to counter such problems.
  • Strong influence of any drug: Frequent use of drugs triggers dependence on them. Thus, what started as a voluntary choice may slowly transform into a physical and psychological need.

Leading a drug-free life

Many families and individuals have suffered great losses due to addiction to drugs. Fortunately, there is hope, though the battle to eliminate addiction and regain sobriety is challenging. There are numerous treatment strategies that can go a long way in helping people come out of their addiction-related problems.