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Substance Abuse vs Addiction: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Difference Between Substance Abuse and Substance Addiction

Substance abuse and substance addiction are often used interchangeably. In reality, people addicted to substances and people who abuse substances are different. While both have adverse effects on an individual’s life, knowing the difference between abuse vs addiction will help you understand and remedy the situation. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol still have control over their lives, while those with an addiction have a disease that affects many aspects of their life. People with addiction may seem to only have an abuse problem, when in reality their life is beginning to fall apart. Similarly, those with an abuse problem might seem like they have an addiction, but they actually are in control of their substance use.

Drug Abuse and Alcohol Abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse does not majorly disrupt a person’s life. This does not mean that substance abuse is okay. Besides the legal implications associated with it, drug and alcohol abuse causes real damage to the body, mind, and spirit. Risks of infectious diseases, overdose, organ damage, and other bodily harms still exists with even casual use.  A person may use mind-altering substances to cope with life’s stresses, instead of utilizing healthier habits. This can lead to worsened substance abuse and addiction.

Luckily, individuals with a substance abuse or a polysubstance problem are able to learn from negative consequences and change their behavior. Clearly laying out the path of substance abuse can inspire an individual to change their destructive habits. This can be something as simple as a honest conversation about drugs and alcohol and where their abuse leads, or something as involved as going to a treatment facility for an instructive session. Either way, the person who abuses needs to understand the all consequences of continued substance use, not just to their bodies, but socially, legally, mentally,  and spiritually.

An example:

A woman with a stressful job goes to the bar every day after work. Unwinding with friends and drinking alcohol helps her relax and forget about the day’s worries. One day on her way home, she gets pulled over by a police officer, and cited with a DUI. Her conviction not only suspends her license, but  requires her to pay a fine, participate in community service, and attend a substance abuse program. These consequences make her reexamine her alcohol use. She decides to stop drinking after work so that she no longer risks getting a DUI. Instead, she goes to the gym to help her release the tension of her stressful job.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

The main difference between drug and alcohol abuse vs addiction is, addiction is a disease that affects most if not all areas of a person’s life. A person with addiction often makes tragic decisions that worsen their situation. In addition to the  risks and harms associated with substance abuse, those with an addiction also endanger their families and livelihood. They often miss work or school, get into legal trouble, endanger their families physically or financially, have terrible health issues, and other serious problems because of their substance use. Even with these dire consequences, people with an addiction cannot change their habits to improve their situation. This is why many people with addiction end up homeless, separated from their family, jobless, and eventually die from their substance use.

It is important to understand people with addictions have a chemical dependency that prevents them from changing on their own. Will-power alone will not cure them of their destructive behavior. The craving for substance leads them to neglect their daily life and act irresponsibly, to the point where their lives are in shambles. Even then, they sometimes cannot comprehend their substance use as the destructive force in their lives. They downplay the extent of their substance use, and often blame its consequences on outside factors. This is called denial. Sometimes, a person with an addiction can recognize their substance use as the cause of their hardships, but still cannot stop using because they are chemically dependent on the substance.

The only way to change the habits of a person with addiction is through focused medical attention. Chemical Dependence Treatment Facilities, such as Bradford Health Services, help people with addictions begin a new life free from substance use. This process includes a medically supervised detoxification period, where the symptoms of withdrawal can be easily managed; a recovery plan created with an experienced addiction counselor to find the best route to sobriety; regular attendance at support group meetings; education on addiction, drugs and alcohol; and learning tools and techniques on how to live happily and healthily. Addiction is a tough disease to beat, but it can be overcome by experience, knowledge, and support. Even a person who is forced into treatment, either by court order or by urging from loved ones, can realize they have an addiction, and eventually seek their way to recovery. No matter how hard, Taking that first step is the most important.

An example:

A woman with a stressful job goes to the bar every day after work. She believes unwinding with friends and drinking alcohol helps her relax and forget about the day’s worries. One day on her way home, she gets pulled over by a police officer, and cited with a DUI. Her conviction not only suspends her license, but  requires her to pay a fine, participate in community service, and attend a substance abuse program. Instead of understanding these as consequences of her alcohol problem, she blames the police for not having anything better to do than pull her over. She blows off the substance abuse program, believing she is control of her alcohol consumption.

She continues to go drinking every day, and often leaves work early to do so. When her boss confronts her about this, she simply shrugs it off and begins to bring alcohol to her workplace instead of leaving early. Eventually, her boss fires her because of poor performance. Even without a job, the woman goes out drinking at night with her friends. Her finances start to dwindle, and she moves in with a friend. The friend asks how the job search is going, and the woman replies that nowhere is hiring, the pay is too low, or she simply didn’t like the job.

Meanwhile, the woman notices she often has stomach pains and goes to her doctor who diagnoses it as gastritis, an inflamed stomach. He asks how often she drinks, and she replies usually one drink a day even though it’s actually three or four times that. He tells her to stop drinking until her stomach feels better, likely for a month. She does well for a few days, but can’t resist having one drink when she’s out with her friends. That one drink turns into two, then three, then four. She tries several times to stop drinking, but can’t seem to not go a day without at least one drink.

The friend notices her struggling with alcohol, and calls the woman’s family. They conduct an intervention, and lay out the real consequences of the woman’s alcohol addiction and not attending treatment.These includes losing the support of her friends and family. The woman had recently begun to realize that she was not in control over her alcohol consumption, but the intervention allowed her to admit the truth to herself and her family in a safe and supportive environment. She willingly enrolled into a treatment program, and there she healed her body, mind, and spirit and learned how to better cope with life’s stresses.

Knowing the difference between substance abuse vs addiction will help you take the next steps. Remember, addiction is a long and winding road that often begins with abuse. It’s never too late to turn off that road, and enroll in a treatment program. If you need help getting yourself or a loved one off the road to addiction, contact an experienced addiction professional at a drug addiction treatment center. There are wonderful substance abuse counselors and substance addiction counselors that can provide you the materials and expertise that leads to sustained recovery and a renewed healthy life.

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