What is the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Addiction?

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Drug abuse and addiction is rampant in America. It’s become a huge problem and economic burden. The economic burden of opioid abuse and addiction has already toppled over $1 trillion. This doesn’t even account for the many other substances that Americans abuse and are addicted to.

Over 24 million Americans were addicted to a substance in 2013. However, the problem is more widespread than that. Many Americans may not be addicted to a drug or alcohol just yet. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not abusing it. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between drug abuse and addiction. Those who abuse drugs are likely to get addicted to them over time. Once they’re addicted, they’ll spiral down into a blackhole.

To better understand the drug epidemic in America, we must first be able to differentiate between drug abuse and drug addiction.

What Is Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is the use of any illicit drug, like cocaine and heroin. Even a single cocaine use or heroin use is considered as drug abuse. Abuse of drugs is also when a person uses drugs recreationally and in a way that the substance is not intended to be used. Common examples of drug abuse include:

  • Using the drug in a way that is not administered, like crushing and snorting pills
  • Taking more drugs than intended to or more frequently than intended to
  • Using more than one drug or substance at a time to get a more potent effect
  • Using drugs in order to achieve a high or to induce an altered state of mind

Those who abuse drugs may not necessarily be addicted to them. They may be able to stop using the drugs without any professional help and without any long-lasting consequences. They may not even experience any withdrawal symptoms when quitting.

Since drug abuse is not as serious as addiction, many people who abuse drugs may not think that they are in a dangerous situation. As a result, they may develop an addiction without knowing it. As mentioned before, there’s a very fine line between drug abuse and drug addiction.

Risk Factors of Drug Abuse

Researchers have spent decades trying to find out what causes drug abuse and how it begins. More importantly, many people are interested in the risk factors of drug abuse. Those who possess more risk factors are more likely to end up abusing drugs.

If risk factors are not addressed, they can only worsen in severity over time. Some risk factors of drug abuse include:

  • An unstable home environment
  • Availability of the substances in one’s environment
  • Peer pressure from friends or peers who also use drugs
  • Poor academic performance
  • Poor parental relationship or lack of parental supervision
  • Pre-existing behavioral or mental problems

Much like how there are risk factors of drug abuse, there are also some protective factors. These factors can prevent drug abuse. Protective factors can include anti-drug use policies and also a strong neighborhood attachment.

The Dangers of Drug Abuse

Someone who is abusing drugs may not necessarily be addicted to them. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t stop and seek immediate professional help from a drug and alcohol rehab center, like Amethyst Recovery.

Drug abuse can lead to irreversible and permanent damage to one’s body and mind. It increases a person’s risk to addiction, overdoses and more. Those who abuse drugs are likely to suffer from physical health issues, like cardiac and respiratory illnesses. The neurochemical changes in their brain can also lead to co-occurring mental health disorders, like panic attacks, depression and anxiety.

Those who were already struggling with a co-occurring mental illness will only see their symptoms worsen. They’ll have a more and more difficult time dealing with their mental health. Fluctuating brain chemistry levels may cause some unexpected issues to arise.

What Is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is pretty different from drug abuse. It’s easy for drug abuse to cross over to addiction, and many people who struggle with an addiction don’t even realize that they’ve become addicted until it’s too late. They may think that they’re still doing fine.

1 in 7 Americans will become addicted to drugs.”

Drug addiction happens when an individual becomes chemically or physically dependent on a substance and cannot stop taking it. This usually happens when neurochemical levels in the brain get severely out of balance. The addicted individual needs to continue to take drugs in order to normalize their brain chemistry levels.

Signs and Symptoms of an Addiction to Drugs

The definition of a drug addiction is quite a bit different from drug abuse. It’s basically one step up from abuse. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, a person can be diagnosed as having a drug addiction if he or she meets two of the following 11 criteria:

  1. Tries to cut down or stop using the drug, but is unable to
  2. Spends a lot of time getting, using, recovering or obsessing over the drug
  3. Craves the drug whenever he or she is sober and has urges to do more
  4. Takes the substance of choice in larger amounts or for longer periods than intended to
  5. Uses drugs again and again even if placed in dangerous situations
  6. Continues to use drugs even when facing psychological or physical problems
  7. Gives up social, recreational and even important work activities in order to do drugs
  8. Builds tolerance to the drugs, so that more is needed in order to achieve the desired effects
  9. Develops withdrawal symptoms (both psychological and physical) which can only be relieved by taking more drugs
  10. Continues to use drugs even when it causes a huge strain on relationships
  11. Neglects work, home or school duties in order to do more drugs

This drug addiction definition is constantly changing. As more research is being conducted on the science of addiction, the definition of addiction changes. Many addicts may meet different criteria. Most addicts won’t meet all 11 criteria. The more criteria met, the more severe the addiction and the more urgent a need for professional treatment.


Anyone who has answered yes to two or more of the questions above struggles with an addiction. The severity of the addiction will depend on how many answers one has answered yes to. Add up all the ‘yeses’ and check your results below:

  • Two to three yeses. This means that you struggle with a mild substance use disorder (SUD). Your condition should be fairly easy to treat, and you might even be able to get away with an intensive outpatient program rather than an inpatient one.
  • Three to five yeses. This means that you struggle with a moderate SUD. You’ll likely need an inpatient treatment program although you may not necessarily need to follow a strict medical detox plan. It depends on the type of drugs that you’ve been abusing.
  • Six or more yeses. This means that you have a severe addiction to drugs. You need as much help as you can possibly get. You’re going to need to go through medical detox and a residential inpatient treatment program. You have a long road ahead of you when it comes to your recovery.

The severity of one’s drug addiction can have a huge impact on the type of treatment program that they need. It will also influence the length and severity of the withdrawals and the length of the treatment programs needed to achieve sobriety.

Get Help from Amethyst Recovery

It doesn’t matter whether you’re merely abusing drugs or addicted to them. With both situations, you still need to get professional help from a drug or alcohol treatment center. If you wait, your situation will only get worse with time.

Here at Amethyst Recovery, we offer a wide variety of treatment programs to help you get sober. Our staff understand what it’s like to struggle with an addiction and can walk you through the process. Contact us for more information.

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