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Is There a Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction?

The line between substance abuse and addiction runs a bit thin, but it is there – even though many people use these terms as if they are interchangeable. Although individuals may not be “addicted” to a substance, they may require clinical intervention when struggling with substance abuse.


What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is the use of drugs or alcohol outside of a medical treatment plan to seek a mind-altering high or “treat” symptoms such as stress or anxiety. For example, if someone does drugs recreationally a few times a year, they are technically engaging in substance abuse. Someone who is stressed at work and turns to alcohol nightly to relieve stress may also be engaging in substance abuse.

Substance abuse may not disrupt your life to a large degree, but it can lead to negative health issues, especially over the long term. Depending on the substance you’re abusing and the situation surrounding it, you may also be putting yourself at risk of legal issues or arrest.

Occasional substance abuse can lead to more regular substance abuse. Even without a physical dependence or addiction, you may be caught in the cycle of a substance abuse disorder, which can begin impacting your life.

What Is Addiction?

Substance abuse is a behavioral issue; addiction is a chronic illness that can involve mental, psychological, and physical components. The body may have developed a physical dependency on drugs or alcohol, making it very difficult for the person to stop using because of withdrawal symptoms. Mental and emotional triggers may also drive the person to drink or do drugs, and they are unable to stop because of psychological dependence on the substance.

One major difference between a substance abuse disorder and addiction is that individuals who are abusing substances (but not addicted to them) have the mental and physical ability to overcome their habit with willpower and behavior change. When someone is dealing with addiction, it’s not about how much willpower they have — medical or professional therapeutic intervention is often required to help the individual learn how to live life with their addiction without giving in to it.

Getting the Right Type of Help

If you’re unsure whether you’re dealing with simple substance abuse or addiction, reach out to a professional for assistance. Someone dealing with substance abuse may be able to overcome their drug or alcohol use with the support of friends or an individual therapist or doctor; in some cases, they may want to seek inpatient recovery options — especially if their substance abuse is related to a mental health diagnosis, a current lifestyle or a social, family or career struggle. Treatment can help individuals struggling with substance abuse learn to replace drug and alcohol abuse with more appropriate behaviors.

If you’re dealing with addiction, patient treatment options, including medically assisted detox and a holistic approach to recovery, can help you identify triggers for substance use, develop healthy coping mechanisms and learn how to approach addiction for a lifelong journey in recovery.

No matter where you are in the addiction cycle or how often you abuse substances, if you want to make a change in your life and live addiction-free, call Beachway today. Our caring staff is always ready to help you learn about your treatment options. You can call us at 877-284-0353 or fill out our contact form online. You can also provide your insurance information online, and we can check your benefits to let you know what services are covered under your plan.