The Differences Between Substance Misuse, Abuse, and Addiction

The terms “misuse,” “abuse,” and “addiction” are often used interchangeably when discussing drug addiction, but in truth, each is unique from one another. In many contexts, this layman’s replacement is perfectly acceptable—for example, whether you hear that someone is an alcohol abuser, alcohol addict, or alcoholic, you likely get the point. However, the distinctions between each are still good to be aware of and can shed light on some of the less known details of substance use problems.

Misuse of Drugs

Substance misuse refers to any use of a drug that falls outside of its intended purpose. This can be relatively innocent and have little to do with addiction, but at other times, substance abuse and misuse can overlap (such as with those who huff paint or other inhalants). In particular, prescription drug misuse is surprisingly common and happens for a variety of reasons:

  • The Differences Between Substance Misuse, Abuse, and AddictionForgetting to take a dose or taking a dose of a prescription drug at the wrong time counts as drug misuse.
  • “Doubling up” on medication (such as by taking extra sleeping pills), or stopping a prescription drug plan early (commonly with antibiotics) further counts as misuse.
  • Requesting or stealing prescription medication from a friend is where misuse leaves the realm of innocence and becomes illegal.
  • Taking drugs for reasons that they weren’t prescribed for blurs the line between misuse and abuse. Using prescription pain medication for minor ailments, such as headaches, counts as misuse and can devolve into addiction.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is marked by a prolonged tendency to seek out drugs that results in negative consequences, and usually has more social effects than physical. When distinguishing abuse and addiction, a variety of indicators are used; having one or more of these indicators in your life signifies a substance abuse issue:

  • Legal and financial consequences related to drug use
  • Harming others psychologically, physically, or emotionally as a result of substance use
  • A life which is “crumbling” or “slipping away” due to poor responsibility and altered behaviors

Abuse can eventually become an addiction, but substance abuse never stops for an addict—understanding the links between, and causes of, substance abuse and addiction is the first step to helping others overcome substance problems. Abusers are often able to willfully recover once they learn about the consequences of continued usage, whether by intervention, counseling, or personal research, so attending shorter symptoms of addiction programs in Tennessee can be enough treatment to get their life back on track.

Chronic Addiction

Abuse is an action and decision to use a harmful substance for a prolonged period of time, whereas addiction is a brain disease characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors despite negative consequences. This distinction between actions and brain chemistry can be vague, yet is essential when considering the nature of alcoholics and other chronic addicts. Most addicts can’t stop of their own accord; their impulsive desires and strong symptoms of withdrawal overcome rationality and feed into a spiral of co-occurring disorders and health effects despite their awareness of how drugs are damaging their life. Discovery Place’s alternative treatment center offers a Long-Term Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Program in Burns which provides the comprehensive, intensive treatment and support systems an addict needs. If someone you care about is misusing, abusing, or is addicted to drugs, contact us at 1-800-725-0922 at any time to talk about how to help them.

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