What Constitutes Abusing Drugs?

When it comes to drug or alcohol use, we hear a few common terms thrown around, like use, abuse, and addiction or dependency. For those unfamiliar with these terms, it may be hard to understand whether or not they’re interchangeable, or what the difference is between each.

Maybe you or a loved one has been using drugs, and you’re looking to the definition of these terms to help figure out whether you have a problem. When does drug use cross the line from being relatively harmless to become abuse or an addiction? Does anyone who abuses drugs need to go to treatment?

Drug Use vs. Drug Abuse

Drug use is the broadest term, and doesn’t necessarily indicate a larger or underlying issue.

Any consumption of drugs can be defined as drug use. Sporadic or commonplace drug use such as smoking marijuana with friends at a party is considered drug use, but so is, for example, a heroin dependency.

When drug use does become a problem, the term drug abuse can be used. An example of drug abuse might be using drugs on a more regular basis to numb some sort of emotional pain that the user doesn’t want to deal with.

Drug Abuse vs. Drug Addiction

If the term abuse indicates a problem with drugs, does that mean all abuse is addiction?

There’s one key difference between drug abuse and drug addiction. If someone has a drug addiction, they’ve become dependant on the drug and may feel like they “need” it, as if the drug is controlling them, rather than the other way around. They will find it very difficult to stop using, and may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit.

Meanwhile, someone who is simply abusing drugs without an addiction present can stop using whenever they want. 

Does Someone Need Treatment if They Are Abusing Drugs?

The short answer: it depends.

Each case of drug abuse or addiction is as complicated and unique as the individual doing the abusing. The need for treatment or the type of treatment required is different for everyone.

When someone is addicted to drugs, treatment is always recommended to improve the person’s quality of life and prevent an overdose in the future. 

For someone that abuses drugs without an addiction present, the answer isn’t quite as clear cut. They may want to consider going to therapy to deal with the underlying emotional problem that causes them to abuse drugs. 

That being said, drug abuse can be a slippery slope for some people, and they may not realize right away if their use has turned into an addiction. 

Overcoming drug abuse or addiction isn’t always easy to do alone. If you suspect you may have a problem with drugs, you may want to seek help from a professional or a support group.

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