What Is the Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

What Is the Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

Substance abuse and substance addiction are the two terms which are sometimes used interchangeably. But, in reality, there is a huge difference between the two i.e. getting addicted to a substance and abusing it.

While both have adverse effects on a person’s life yet these are poles apart from each other. Let’s get to know how.

Table of Content

What is substance abuse?

Substance abuse or drug abuse is a patterned use of a drug in which the user uses the legal or illegal drug in amounts or with methods which are harmful to them and others. WHO (World Health Organization) refers to substance abuse as a harmful use of substances like illicit drugs and alcohol which later leads to dependence syndrome.

Consuming illegal drugs is generally considered as abuse. But, your relationship with the legal drugs becomes an abuse when you:


• Start overusing them
• Consuming them in high quantity
• Ingest them for the purpose other than their original intent
• Develop dependence

What is substance abuse

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What is addiction?

Substance addiction or drug addiction is a health condition which affects a person’s brain and behavior. It is a multi-layered psycho-social phenomenon. PubMed Health defines drug addiction as existence of both psychological dependence and physical dependence on at least one illicit substance like marijuana, cocaine, crystal meth, heroin or even prescription drugs.

What is addiction

Types of substance abuse or drug abuse

A. Prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse means using a prescribed drug for non-medical purposes or using those drugs which were not prescribed to you or for a different issue.

The most common prescription drugs which are abused include pain medications like codeine, morphine, methadone, CNS (central nervous system) depressants like Valium, and stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall.

Dependency on prescription drug abuse is identified by:

• Being secretive
• Experiencing withdrawal signs like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.
• Asking for repeat prescriptions before their need.
• Problems at work, legal issues, and finances.
• Feeling the need to increase the dosage
• Taking other medications to reduce the side effects of prescription drug
• Change in blood pressure and appetite
• Facing difficulty while reducing the dosage of the drug

Prescription drug abuse

B. Alcohol abuse

Well, it is a bit difficult to detect alcohol abuse as it is both legal and socially acceptable. This can happen to anyone despite gender, age or social class. Alcohol affects everyone differently. But, if you are a heavy drinker then, it can affect your liver and can even lead to serious alcohol disorder.

Even the stats have created differently for men and women to determine whether they are a heavy drinker or not. Like for men drinking four or more drinks in a day or more than fourteen drinks in a week is heavy drinking. And for women, heavy drinking is described as drinking more than three drinks in a day and more than seven in a week.


Some common signs of alcohol abuse:

• Regular drinking more than the intended amount
• Feeling ashamed or guilty about drinking
• Experiencing memory loss because of heavy drinking
• Feeling the need of a drink to relieve stress
• Lying to people about how much you drink

 Alcohol abuse

C. Solvent abuse

The solvents that are commonly abused are often the fluids found in household items such as aerosol cans like air freshener, hairspray, paints, glue and correcting fluids or fuel canisters. These drugs are inhaled to create a drunk and dizzy effect which last for 15 minutes or until 45 minutes. Further inhaling these solvent causes:

• Hallucinations
• Drowsiness and headache
• Vomiting
• Light-headedness


Besides, there several other risks associated with this abuse:

• Suffocation
• Damage to kidney, liver, and brain
• Poisoning
• Nasal membrane damage
• Becoming too prone to the accident under the influence of solvents
• And even death

Solvent abuse

D. Illegal drug abuse

Illegal drugs like cannabis and heroin have been made illegal because of its adverse effects. Frequent use of these drugs can lead to dependency which later causes a negative effect on mental and physical health.

People depending on illegal drugs could have:

• Felt the need to take the drugs frequently
• Failed attempts at quitting
• Abnormal and irresponsible behavior like stealing

 Illegal drug abuse

How to prevent substance abuse

Substance abuse can affect every aspect of your life and can hurt people around you, your personal relationships and financial health. Further, it also leads to addiction and causes serious health issues and even death. So, to stop this you need to take proper medication and counselling or both to get over this issue. And if you wish to quit then, you can consult a doctor to get the best treatment options.

How to prevent substance abuse

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Difference between substance abuse and addiction on different basis

A. On basis of symptoms

Many people will be surprised to know what substance abuse is considered from a health perspective. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services has defined moderate drinking as up to two drinks per day for men and up to one drink per day for women. And anything beyond that is considered an abuse of alcohol which also puts a person at a risk of developing an alcohol addiction.

The same can happen in the case of prescription drugs when a person takes them in the other way than they were prescribed to get high.

On the other hand, addiction often signs of serious psychological, physical and social symptoms. Though, all definitions include the same component as the continued use of drugs or alcohol despite the adverse effects. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse stated: “Addiction is defined as a recurring brain disease that is identified by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

B. On basis of mental health

As discussed earlier, substance abuse is defined as how a person uses drugs and alcohol while addiction is defined by the physiological and physiological effects of the substance. But, the one of the crucial differences between the two is that abuse is a behaviour while addiction is a mental disorder.

American Psychological Association has listed components that define addiction:

• Failed attempt to control substance use
• Use of a substance in a large amount
• Strong urge to use the substance
• Continue use of a substance despite social and personal problems

In short, this means when a person is addicted he/she is unable to control his/her urge to use the substance whether it is an alcohol, prescription drugs or illicit drug.

And when it comes to substance abuse, it is often considered as an individual choice before it transforms into and disorder.

C. On basis of withdrawal symptoms

One of the major signs of addiction is the withdrawal symptom when an addict goes too long without taking drugs or alcohol. Abuse of drugs and alcohol is not necessarily dependent on the withdrawal symptoms as substances can be abused on a recurrent basis without developing a physical dependence. While in contrast, addiction is considered the final step in the development of substance abuse.

While the signs of withdrawal are completely dependent on the substance use. Still, there are few common signs that we have listed down:

• Sweating
• Seizures
• Vomiting or nausea
• Abdominal pain
• Shaking of hands
• Hallucinations
• Confusion
• Anger and irritability

For addicts, these start to show up nearly in 12 to 24 hours after the last consumption of drugs and alcohol. It is absolutely possible that you can abuse a substance without being an addict but if you notice any of these withdrawal signs then, its high time to take this thing seriously as dependence over these substances is a sign that addiction has formed.

D. On basis of brain health

It is very important to note that when a person is addicted to a substance, it completely changes the brain functionality while abuse of drugs and alcohol have a very shorter impact on the body and brain unless the substance is sustained for a longer period of time.

In short, abuse is the result of various factors which includes pleasurable effects or social pressure to continue using the drugs. While addiction is the result of only one factor which is the dependence of the body and brain on the effects of the substance.

 Difference between substance abuse and addiction on different basis

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The main takeaway of this article is not to discuss the difference between substance abuse and addiction, but to show you the two different complications of substance use. The key insight is that there is a difference between the two, and substance abuse can lead to substance addiction. In simple words, if a person notices the sign of abuse, they should not neglect it to the level where it develops into an addiction. So, try to keep a close look over your substance use and ensure it does not develop into an addiction.

Further, if you notice any sign of addiction then, reach out for professional help to recover from this health condition and lead a substance-free life.

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