Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Differences

Let’s get this straight -  substance abuse and addiction negatively affect your brain, physical health and social relationships. However, while these two are intertwined, they are not quite the same as each other. Learning about the subtle differences between these mental health challenges helps us identify them, and tackle them in the right way, as well as manage the stigma that accompanies it.

Understanding drug abuse and addiction

Addiction can take an emotional toll on a person. No matter how hard one tries, it becomes difficult to control the urge to use them. Despite knowing of the harm it causes oneself, a person coping with addiction continues to consume drugs. And this does not need to be “extreme” cases as one may be persuaded to believe through movies and shows.

It does not revolve around illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine, nor does it always involve a person looking unkempt and unruly. It is possible to be addicted to prescription drugs, pain medications and substances that are relatively easily available.

At the beginning, a person may want to consume drugs for various reasons, be it societal or peer pressure or for feelings of stress relief and escapism. It may initially feel that you are in control of your rate of drug use, but substances have the power to change the way your brain functions, and eventually leave you no choice but continue drug abuse.

It could also leave you with severe physical symptoms that often come with withdrawal. Over time, in an attempt to fulfill your brain and body’s need for increased intake, one develops damaging behaviors that affect their personal and family life.

As we try to gain a comprehensive understanding of substance abuse and addiction, remember that people from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds can be the victim of addiction. While the reason behind trying drugs may vary, addiction almost always is triggered by the effect of drugs on a person’s brain.

A lot of people view drugs as a way to get away from problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression. So, creating an environment where a person can confront their vulnerabilities without being judged can go a long way in preventing substance abuse.

Difference Between Addiction and Drug Abuse

Drug abuse or substance abuse is when a person uses a drug, despite knowing the potential harmful effects that come with it. Most people are aware that certain drugs cause physical and mental problems when they start out.

They often tell themselves that they can handle it without getting addicted or are told so by their peers. What starts off as an intentional action becomes addiction, which is a point where a person cannot control their intake and is consumed by the substance.

Taking illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and others can be described as drug abuse as they are known to be harmful substances. However, taking prescription drugs or painkillers which are generally used for recovery from physical issues, in doses higher than prescribed also falls under substance abuse. 

Includes taking illegal drugs and using prescription medicine differently from how your doctor prescribes. Even if one doesn’t consume excessive amounts, using prescription drugs for recreational purposes constitutes drug abuse and can lead to addiction. When a person continues to use drugs over a long period of time, it is termed by mental health experts as chronic drug abuse and it is generally accompanied by addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Addiction

Recognizing signs of addiction in someone close to you can be a sensitive, yet tricky challenge, and it's essential to pay close attention. But when we talk about symptoms, it really depends on the drug someone is hooked on. Usually, you can tell a lot from a person's behavior. They might start ignoring their family, job, or personal responsibilities because they're so focused on getting and using more drugs. 

Sometimes, when they're high, they take risks, like driving while high or having unsafe sex, which can lead to legal trouble. Addiction can also cause friction between a person and their family and partners in the long run. And here's the thing: addiction doesn't just mess with your mind; it messes with your body too. 

If someone goes too long without their drug, they might sweat a lot, feel sick, get restless, can't sleep, or even feel down and anxious. All these uncomfortable feelings make them want to use drugs even more, even if they promised themselves they'd quit. Slowly, they start giving up the things they used to love, like hobbies, hanging out with friends, and other interests, in the pursuit of drugs.

Facts about Drug Abuse and Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction affect people from all walks of life, no matter their age or socio-economic background. It can seriously harm their health, causing issues with their heart, lungs, and mental well-being.

But it doesn't just hurt individuals; it impacts everyone. It comes with financial strain, leads to problems at work, or even legal issues. The fact is, it's not just their problem; it's ours too.

But here's the good news: people can recover. With the right support, treatment, lifestyle changes, community resources, and reduced stigma, people with addiction can and have overcome it.

How Drugs Affect Your Brain?

Drugs, whether illegal or prescription, have a profound influence on the human brain. Substances target your brain’s reward system systems and interact with its neurotransmitters, disrupting its balance. It fills the brain with a chemical called dopamine and can lead to an overwhelming surge of pleasure or euphoria. 

Over time, as drug abuse continues, the brain adapts, and craves the drug-induced high more intensely. These neurological changes help explain the relentless cycle of addiction that affects a person’s judgment, decision making, ability to learn something new and reject natural rewards such as food or social interactions.

What is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence is something that commonly accompanies substance abuse. When your body becomes familiar with a drug, it becomes reliant on it in order to function normally. When you suddenly stop taking the substance, you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms based on the drug, including muscle aches, sweating, fatigue and more. However, remember that certain substances can cause dependency without leading to addiction.

Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction

Treatment for drug addiction related problems is all about finding what works best for you. A de-addiction expert is best equipped to put together a personalized plan, based on your needs and goals. This plan will be determined after you share your thoughts and feelings with a therapist.

You could also consider joining groups with people going through similar experiences like support groups. You could also take specific medication recommended by a mental health professional. The goal of de-addiction treatment is to help a person take back control of their life and prevent relapses.

Risk Factors for Drug Addiction

Several factors can increase the risk of drug addiction, including genetics, family history, early exposure to substances, and mental health issues. Additionally, peer pressure and social environment can play a significant role in addiction. Understanding these influences is key, because it helps us build strong support networks and can help those around us make healthier choices and reduce their susceptibility to drug addiction.

When Should You Seek Professional Help?

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse or addiction, remember that help is around the corner. It is best to seek professional help as soon as possible. Signs such as loss of control, withdrawal symptoms, and negative consequences in personal and professional life are usually best indicate a need for professional intervention. At an early stage, even prior to addiction, it can be beneficial to speak to an expert regarding your habits and physical dependence to a substance.

How to Deal with a Loved One Having Substance Abuse Problems?

Supporting a loved one with substance abuse problems can be challenging and take an emotional toll on yourself. Engage in open communication, encourage them to seek de-addiction treatment and let them know you’re there for them. Remember that it is also essential to take care of your own well-being while helping your loved one on their journey to recovery.

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