Abuse and Addiction: They Aren’t the Same

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Did you know that the terms “drug abuse” and “drug addiction” have different meanings? Even though both terms are used interchangeably, they actually support different conditions. “Drug abuse” refers to the use of an illegal substance in a manner that goes against social norms. “Drug addiction” is a brain disease where the substance is the dominant influence on the individual. Drug addicts are completely dependent on drugs and use them regularly, whereas drug abusers use drugs in a recreational manner.

Is There Such a Thing as a Recreational Drug User?

It’s easy to confuse drug abuse and addiction. After all, is there really such a thing as a recreational drug user?

It sounds almost impossible to think that someone could use drugs on occasion throughout their lives and not fall victim to addiction. When stress is high, what will that person turn to? Drugs. When it’s time to relax and have fun, what will that person rely on? Drugs. When boredom sets in, or there’s a major change in that person’s life, what will remain the constant? Drugs.

It’s easy to be skeptical of a self-proclaimed recreational drug user. But, there is some truth to this. Not everyone who uses drugs is an addict. Addiction is a disease and it involves more than just drug use. On the flip side, drugs do interfere with normal brain activity by creating powerful feelings of pleasure. Therefore, frequent drug use in anyone can turn abuse into addiction.

Case Study: A Closer Look at Addiction and Abuse

Let’s take a look at Sarah, a 19-year-old heroin addict. From a young age, Sarah’s grandparents worried about what her future would hold. Her mother struggled with alcoholism; her father was not involved in her life. Even though Sarah was provided for and loved by her family, she didn’t have the stable upbringing her peers did. Despite her mother’s best efforts, she could only stay sober for a few months at a time.

As Sarah entered her preteen years, she became curious about alcohol. She experimented with it, and it actually helped to take away some of her insecurities. It wasn’t long before Sarah stumbled upon prescription pain medication in her grandparents’ medicine cabinet that she found a new way to deal with her stress.

Sarah noticed that some of her friends liked to drink at parties, but it didn’t consume them in the same way. For her, she needed the alcohol and the pain medication to function. Her body craved it; her mind thought about it constantly. As friends went to movies or bowling alleys on the weekends, Sarah lost interest in these activities. Sometimes, Sarah could find a few friends who would get high with her, but no one seemed to need the fix as much as her.

Sarah then met someone at a party who introduced her to heroin. Now she felt like she belonged; she finally found friends who enjoyed getting high as much as her. With Sarah already suffering from addiction, she became hooked on heroin. Barely an adult, Sarah’s family stages an intervention.

Do Sarah’s Friends Have the Same Fate?

Sarah is an example of what happens in many cases of addiction. A person has a greater risk of addiction, either because it runs in the family or they grew up in a violent household, and they start abusing drugs to deal with the pain. The drugs quickly take a hold of them, and the brain becomes controlled by the addiction.

However, another person of the same age and demographics could use drugs on a recreational level, and the brain does not become addicted. You never know which person you’re going to be, which is why experimenting with drugs is a gamble. It may take just one time to start the path of addiction.

Remember Sarah’s friends, the occasional drug users? Even though these friends may not have had the same predisposition for addiction, they could end up with the same fate.

Sarah’s acquaintance, Mike, was one such example. Throughout high school and college, he used drugs recreationally. He was proud of his ability to balance sports, work and partying, but over time, his hardcore ways started to have an impact on him. When the stress built up, he started abusing drugs more. The drugs impacted his normal brain functioning, and Mike, too, ended up with an addiction. Sarah and Mike were two very different people with very different backgrounds, but both ended with the same outcome.

Abuse is Just as Serious as Addiction

There are some people who believe that they can use drugs for fun without any negative consequences. The fact is that drugs are dangerous, and addiction can happen to anyone. There are no limits. Drug abuse needs to be taken just as seriously as addiction. The only positive is that it is much easier to help a drug abuser and break the habit than it is to help an addict. So, if you know of someone who is using drugs and they tell you “it’s just for fun,” step in and make that positive difference in their life.