What is the Difference Between Abuse,​ Addiction,​ and Dependence?

Some of the most common terms that are thrown around include abuse, addiction, and dependence. What are the differences between these terms, and how might they impact the addiction treatment process?

Substance abuse and addiction come in many shapes and forms. Some people struggle with recreational drugs, while other people may have issues with alcohol. There are other people who have issues with prescription medications, gambling, and a number of other activities. The addiction treatment process has a lot of moving parts, and it is important to customize the treatment process to meet the needs of the individual.

That is why jargon and terminology are so important. Some of the most common terms that are thrown around include abuse, addiction, and dependence. What are the differences between these terms, and how might they impact the addiction treatment process? Learn more below, and do not forget to reach out to a professional who can help you if you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or physical dependence.

What Is Abuse?

Substance abuse takes place when someone uses medications or illicit substances in a manner that is harmful. If someone is using a medication in a manner other than its intended purpose, it qualifies as substance abuse.

Importantly, someone does not have to have addiction or dependency to engage in substance abuse. Simply using something other than how it should be used qualifies as substance abuse.

Just because something is legal doesn't mean substance abuse is not possible. For example, if you have prescription painkillers, and you are using them in a manner other than how they are prescribed, that qualifies as substance abuse. Or, if you get prescription medications from someone else and you do not have a prescription for that medication, that is also substance abuse.

Alcohol, which is legal for people over the age of 21, is also a common source of substance abuse. Some of the most common signs of alcohol abuse include consuming alcohol:

  • As a way to deal with stress
  • To the point of blacking out
  • Before getting behind the wheel of a car or heavy machinery
  • When you wake up in the morning
  • In secret because you are trying to hide it from someone

Even using a substance inappropriately once can qualify as substance abuse.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction takes place when you are compelled to use something, such as drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, or do something, such as gambling, in a manner that interferes with your daily life. For example, if the drive to drink is so great that it interferes with your personal and professional relationships, or your physical (or mental) health, that is a sign of addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that impacts many aspects of your daily life and your thought processes. For example, addiction impairs your ability to make decisions and reason clearly, so it can have an impact on your overall health.

Some of the most common signs of addiction include:

  • You frequently lose track of how much of a substance you have taken, and how long you have been using a substance.
  • You have significant financial difficulties because you are pouring all of your money into that substance or behavior.
  • You frequently miss out on events or activities with your family members and friends because of your addiction.
  • You fall behind in work or school because of your addictive tendencies.

Addiction has the potential to impact all areas of your life, and that is why you should reach out to a professional who can help you if you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of addiction.

What Is Dependence?

When we talk about dependence, we refer to a situation where there is a physical dependence, or cravings, for a specific substance. Withdrawal symptoms after not using a specific substance for a period of time are a sign that your body is physically dependent on that substance. For example, if you have a physical dependence on opioids, you may develop cravings or withdrawal symptoms after it has been a while since you last took an opioid.

When comparing dependence to the terms above, it is important to remember that there are situations where someone can be dependent on something without being addicted to it. For example, you may develop a dependence on anti-anxiety medication even though you might have been using it exactly as the doctor has instructed.

Even though it may be difficult to understand how you can develop dependence even when you have been following the doctor’s instructions, your healthcare provider can also help you stop using the medication safely to avoid or minimize withdrawal symptoms. That is why taper plans are important for some medications, such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, steroids, and painkillers.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary significantly depending on what you have been using, and not all substances can cause dependency. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms of opioids specifically include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • GI symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches and pains

On the other hand, the most common withdrawal symptoms of alcohol dependence include but are not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

These symptoms can be severe. That is why it is important to work with a professional who can help you or your loved one figure out which kind of treatment is best. Treatment options vary based on the type of substance and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Work With MATClinics for Help With Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Dependence

Substance abuse, addiction, and dependence are all significant concerns and can pose severe health risks. We strongly recommend that you reach out to a professional who can help you formulate an addiction treatment plan that is customized to meet your needs or the needs of your family member. We have a variety of treatment options at our disposal that can help people overcome some of the biggest obstacles in the treatment process. If you or your loved one needs a type of treatment that we do not offer, we can assist you in getting to the right place. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

Speak to a member of our team to schedule a New Patient visit, or just to get more information.

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