The Difference Between Use and Abuse of Drugs and Alcohol

Alcohol Abuse | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comThere are many men and women who drink or use drugs. In fact, some have a glass of wine with their dinner. Or they have a beer at the end of the week. They might have a drink from time to time but there use of alcohol and drugs is not abuse.

There are many ways to explore whether your use of alcohol or other substances is actually abuse. This article will share of those ways, but it’s also important to keep in mind that talking to a mental health professional or drug counselor is always best when considering drug treatment. However, you might use the following information to give you a sense whether you are in fact abusing drugs or alcohol.

Defining Substance Abuse

Lisa Najavits, author of Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse, defines substance abuse or addiction as the experience of a substance having control over your life. The American Medical Association (AMA) describes an addiction as a “compulsive use of a substance resulting in physical, psychological, or social harm” and that use continues despite the harm is causes. Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association (APA) expands on the definition of addiction to include non-substance types of addiction, such as gambling.

The APA explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to addiction. Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors and any activity that become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. According to the APA, there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling, having the same high, or rush in the brain, that is similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create.

  • You might be abusing drugs or alcohol if the following is true for you:
  • Your substance use results in the failure to fulfill obligations, such as parenting or work responsibilities.
  • Repeated substance use continues in dangerous situations, such as driving.
  • You are experiencing repeated legal problems because of the substance use.
  • You continue to use substances despite the problems it might cause, such as arguments with others.

Determining If It’s Use or Abuse

Also, author Lisa Najavits provides the following chart to investigate whether your relationship with substances is use or abuse:

  • Q            Your quantity of substance use has increased.
  • U            You are unable to control your substance use.
  • I            Your substance use interferes with your responsibilities.
  • T            Your time is heavily devoted to using the substance, including fantasizing about it.
  • N            You need more of the drug to obtain the same effect. This is known as tolerance.
  • O            Other aspects of your life have been damaged by substance use, such as your health, social life, financial situation. Yet, you continue to use.
  • W            Physical withdrawal symptoms occur if you stop using the substance and you may take the substance to try to manage your symptoms.

Getting Substance Abuse Treatment

Addiction Help | LakehouseRecoveryCenter.comAs you read this list and you recognize that in fact you are experiencing an abuse of alcohol or drugs, perhaps it’s best to speak to a drug counselor. You might consider entering drug rehab and substance abuse treatment. You might have to go through drug detox in order bring your mind and body into homeostasis.

If and when you decide to enter drug treatment, a drug counselor will likely use a clinical tool to assess whether or not you have an addiction. Typically, there are eleven different criteria that a clinician uses to determine the severity of an addiction. The number of criteria present for someone indicates the severity of the addictive disorder. For example, 2-3 criteria indicate a mild disorder; 4-5 criteria indicate a moderate disorder; and 6 or more of the 11 criteria indicate a severe disorder.

If you’re concerned about your use of alcohol or drugs, contact a mental health professional today.



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