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What Is the Difference between Substance Abuse And Addiction?

SAMHSA defines use, abuse, and addiction to any illicit substance very specifically. “Use”of drugs and alcohol includes any alcohol or drug ingestion by any means with the intent to socialize and relax with others on a recreational level. Though the amount used may not seem to be harmful and may not ultimately lead to dependence upon the substance of choice, it may still put the individual in harm’s way if recreational drug or alcohol use leads to unsafe choices or situations while the person is under the influence.

“Abuse”of drugs and alcohol is defined as chronic use of any illicit substance that results in at least one of the following issues in the past year:

  • An inability to maintain commitments or fulfill obligations in one’s career, at school, or in the home.
  • Physically dangerous situations that could lead to accident.
  • Legal problems related to use of any substance or choices made while under the influence.
  • Relationship difficulties at home, with neighbors, and/or in the workplace.

“Addiction,”or dependence upon a drug or drugs, including alcohol, is defined by experiencing three or more of the following problems within the past year as a direct consequence of chronic use of the substances of choice:

  • The individual builds a tolerance to the drug of choice (e.g., requiring higher and higher doses in order to experience the “high”associated with use).
  • Money designated for survival (e.g., rent, food, utilities) is instead used to buy drugs and alcohol.
  • Care of dependent family members or regard for the safety of others in general, including in the workplace and on the road, becomes negligent.
  • The individual experiences physical withdrawal symptoms when without the drug of choice that will vary depending on the specific substance but may include nausea, shaking, chills, sweating, vomiting, body pains, and more.
  • The individual takes the substance of choice more often or in larger amounts than originally intended.
  • Despite a genuine desire to stop using or drinking, the individual is unable to moderate or stop use of all substances for any length of time.
  • The major focus of almost every day is getting high or drunk, recovering from the effects of drugs or alcohol, obtaining more drugs and alcohol, or doing things that will in general enable the ability to get and stay high.
  • Individuals may no longer take part in hobbies or social events that were once important to them due to substance abuse.
  • Despite the fact that negative consequences of using drugs and alcohol continue to pile up, the individual is unable to quit.