Addiction vs Drug or Alcohol Abuse
What’s the Difference Between Addiction and Substance Abuse?
The term “abuse” is slowly but surely becoming outdated. However, in order to continue to discuss this important topic in non-stigmatizing language, the term “misuse” is preferred.
The primary difference between substance misuse and addiction is a damaging behavior; however, some element of choice is still involved. Once addiction is in place, the individual does not choose to actively misuse substances. Unlike substance misuse, addiction is a disease. 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.
What is Substance Misuse?
Substance misuse and addiction may seem like they are one and the same, but they are two different concepts: Individuals who misuse drugs may not become addicted to them. Substance misuse, by definition, relates more to how individuals use drugs or alcohol. They use them inappropriately and 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 misuse 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 misuse.
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 misusing drugs. Any time an individual uses illicit drugs or using a prescription drug outside the parameters of the prescription, it is termed substance misuse. With repeated substance misuse, 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 misuse, 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 misuse but the overall pattern may be indicative of an addiction.
The Dangers of Substance Misuse
There are several dangers that can occur as a result of substance misuse, including the ever-present risk for overdose, which can be fatal. Regardless of the severity of one’s misuse, the risk of overdose always remains, as do other dangers such as contracting blood borne diseases through intravenous drug use or being involved in a serious accident due to being under the influence.
Those who do not have an addiction generally have control over their substance use. If these individuals wish to stop using drugs or alcohol, they can usually do so without the need for extensive treatment. There is always a chance that this casual use can turn into addiction, however, and oftentimes, that addiction can develop quickly. The National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism estimates that 40 percent of individuals who begin drinking before they are 15 years old will become dependent on alcohol.
When Substance Misuse Becomes Addiction
After an individual becomes addicted, the option to simply stop using drugs or alcohol no longer exists. Even if people choose to stop, they cannot due to the chemical imbalances and physical dependence that has formed. They may also enter a denial period, where they cannot admit that their drug or alcohol use is the cause of multiple problems in their lives. This is when substance misuse becomes addiction, as the individual is no longer able to control whether or not they continue to misuse their preferred substance/substances. In order to address an addiction to drugs or alcohol, professional help is required.
Treatment for Substance Misuse and Addiction
Both substance misuse and addiction can be effectively treated. Depending on the severity of both conditions, there are several types of rehab that can offer help. For example, there are medical detox, inpatient, and outpatient rehab options available at River Oaks addiction treatment in Tampa.
You can start the rehab admissions process right now by calling us at and speaking with one of our compassionate admissions navigators. They can help answer any of your questions, including those about insurance coverage for rehab, rehab payment options, and additional information.
Begin your journey towards health and recovery by filling out our secure right now.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.