Substance abuse and addiction may seem like they are one and the same, but they are two different concepts: Individuals who abuse drugs may not become addicted to them. Substance abuse, by definition, relates more to how individuals use drugs or alcohol. They use them inappropriately, in an abusive manner, but the effects of such use may not have significant impact on the other parts of their lives. Addiction, however, involves negative physical and psychological effects that the continued substance abuse brings. When individuals become addicted, it becomes near impossible for them to stop using drugs or alcohol, unlike those who, for example, participate in binge drinking or occasional drug abuse.
Some individuals may use drugs or alcohol to alleviate stress or even physical symptoms and to induce pleasure. In these cases, individuals are said to be abusing drugs. Any time an individual uses illicit drugs or using a prescription drug outside the parameters of the prescription, it is termed substance abuse. With repeated substance abuse, parts of the brain can begin to change, mainly the reward center. As a result, individuals become addicted and are often unable to stop using drugs or alcohol even if they have experienced negative consequences, such as a medical emergency, physical problems, relationship issues, job concerns, or legal trouble.
In some instances of substance abuse, individuals may experience periods where they completely abstain from drugs and alcohol, followed by periods of heavy use. These users may engage in binge-like cycles of abuse but the overall pattern may be indicative of an addiction.
The primary difference between substance abuse and addiction is that substance abuse is a damaging behavior; however, some element of choice is still involved. Once addiction is in place, the individual does not choose to actively abuse substances. When someone is addicted to a substance, physical dependence on the substance is generally present; however, one can be physically dependent on a substance (as people may be on certain prescription medications taken according to a doctor’s instructions) without being addicted to it.
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