After attending numerous educational sessions at various rehab facilities in my PoA role, and now attending training for Substance Abuse Specialist certification, I’m convinced we need to get more information out to the average Joe about the difference between “use,” “abuse,” and “addiction.”
No, they are not the same thing. While it is true that one can lead to another (of course you have to use a drug to abuse a drug or to become chemically dependent), each term has a succinct meaning and the difference does matter when it comes to defining and addressing “recovery” needs.
No point in being too creative about this; here are some straightforward definitions of these words as they relate to substance/drug activities. (These are my words, but you can find more information at www.drugfree.org or in the American Psychiatric Assoc.’s DSM V or other similar sites):
- Drug/Alcohol Use: Simply using a drug (or alcohol). Some people do this for medical reasons, some for entertainment. They can take it or leave it. Their bodies don’t require it and they are able to deal with their emotions and relationships with or without it, and using drugs is not a regular part of their lifestyle over long periods of time. Medically, they stop when they are better or have healed. As far as entertainment goes, I’m not saying that drug use for entertainment is right (I personally am against this) – I’m just saying that some people use drugs sometimes and that’s the definition for this word in our context. (Then again, once in awhile I have drink of some type of alcohol – wine or beer or Pina Colada – at end of my day or at a celebration with friends. This would be a type of use that is commonly accepted in our society – and not considered abuse or addiction.)
- Drug Abuse: The abuser uses drugs as a crutch but is not physiologically/chemically dependent. They might abuse it by using the drug (or alcohol) any time they feel sad or angry or hurt in some way. They might use it out of loneliness or to self-medicate due to undiagnosed depression or anxiety. The danger is that they do not learn how to deal with their emotions or their conditions in a healthy way. Therefore, their psychological/emotional growth can become stunted and their relationships will likely be unhealthy – lives unfulfilled (and they could end up in jail as well). Abuse differs from use because of this aspect of avoidance or substitution for healthy coping mechanisms.
- Drug Addiction (aka “Chemical Dependence”): Addiction or dependence indicates that there has been an altering of the brain chemistry in the user which creates not only an emotional desire for the drug but a physiological need. Very simply put (I’m not a clinician or doctor), when a drug floods the brain with “feel good” chemicals, the brain responds by shutting off its natural release of these chemicals and, in fact, releases some other chemical to shut down the flood and even things out. This process produces the feeling of extreme high followed by an extreme low and then a craving because now the brain is not naturally switching back to normal – so more drugs are used and the actual dependence grows. This alteration in brain chemistry differentiates addiction from abuse or basic use. Addiction fits the definition of a disease – a dynamic which deserves its own separate post. Follow this link for a straightforward, readable discussion on the disease model of addiction.
Just to be clear, again, these definitions are in my own words. My attempt is to differentiate these concepts in a way that everyone can understand. If I have anything incorrect, please do send me a comment or private note so that I can edit or do further research into this.
Thanks and God bless!