Drug addiction and drug abuse might seem similar from the outside looking in. If you have no previous experience with either, the thought of anyone using drugs is frightening. It’s difficult to understand the distinction between substance abuse and substance use disorder when you aren’t familiar with the conditions.

Drug use causes many different side effects depending on a variety of factors:

  • Types of drugs used
  • Amount of drugs used
  • The total length of drug use
  • Overall physical and mental health

The side effects of drug use usually look the same on the surface, whether someone abuses them or is addicted. Differences between drug addiction and drug abuse are subtle. You need to understand what separates the two in order to know what to look for. Continue reading to get a better idea of what makes the two patterns of use different.

Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse: What’s the Difference?

Drug addiction and drug abuse make little sense to people who don’t understand addiction. They might think quitting using is as simple as “cutting back a bit” or “just stopping.” What they don’t understand is the complex reality of those who struggle with substance abuse problems.

Both drug addiction and drug abuse, at their simplest, describe unhealthy drug use behaviors. Taking drugs in any way, shape, or form always involves at least some level of risk and danger. But people who abuse or are addicted to drugs are in an entirely different category.

What is Drug Abuse?

Although any drug use is dangerous, drug abuse refers to especially harmful patterns of use. It’s somewhat easier to define alcohol abuse because you can consistently measure the amount of alcohol in someone’s system. Drugs cover a broader range of the spectrum and are more difficult to categorize as a whole. Commonly abused drugs include:

People often abuse drugs on a short-term basis. They take large amounts of a substance over a short period of time. This pattern of drug use is referred to as a “binge.” Drug binges usually take place over the course of a few hours or maybe a few days but the user stops at some point. Some examples of short-term drug abuse are:

  • Heavy cocaine use during a night out partying with friends
  • Taking drugs multiple days in a row (often for events such as music
  • Using enough of a substance or substances to put you in a dangerous
    or risky situation

Dangers of Drug Abuse

Drugs impact decision-making abilities, judgment, and reaction times. This puts people who are under the influence at a much higher risk of hurting themselves or others. People might do things while high that they would never consider doing while sober. They have higher chances of accidental injury, driving intoxicated, violent encounters, risky sexual behavior, and more.

How are Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse Different?

Drug abuse is dangerous on its own but the biggest danger is the possibility of developing an addiction. Drug addiction and drug abuse are different because those who abuse drugs stop at some point. On the other hand, someone with a drug addiction cannot stop using. Until someone intervenes, addicts continue getting high no matter the consequences.

Drug addiction actually qualifies as a medical condition, referred to as substance use disorder by physicians. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines 11 criteria seen in people with a substance use disorder:

  1. Using more drugs or using for a longer period of time than intended.
  2. Having difficulties or an inability to cut down or quit using drugs.
  3. Spending much or most of the time using or buying drugs, or getting
    money to buy them.
  4. Experiencing cravings, or an overwhelming urge, to use drugs.
  5. Having troubles at school, work, or home as a result of drug use.
  6. Continuing to use drugs despite the problems it causes with family or friends.
  7. Slowing down on or quitting hobbies or other enjoyable activities to use drugs.
  8. Ending up in risky, dangerous, or harmful situations as a result of
    drug use.
  9. Continuing to use drugs even if they make a physical or psychological health condition worse.
  10. Developing a tolerance, or needing to use more of a drug to reach the desired high.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using drugs.
11 criteria seen in people with a substance use disorder

Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

The DSM-5 separates substance use disorders into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. Physicians look for these signs in their patients and total up the number of symptoms they notice. The severity of a patient’s substance use disorder depends on the number of signs they show. Categories of substance use disorder break down by the following numbers:

  • Mild: 2 to 3 criteria
  • Moderate: 4 to 5 criteria
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria

Those with moderate or severe substance use disorders may benefit from addiction treatment. There are various levels of care, from detox to outpatient therapy, specially tailored to each client. If someone you know struggles with addiction, give Hawaii Island Recovery a call today at 877-721-3556 to learn about our options.

If they’re dealing with a serious substance use disorder they’ll more intensive treatment. Our admissions counselors will give you an overview of treatment options to help them make the right choice. Equip your loved one to receive the help they need today!