Drug misuse, abuse, and addiction are all serious public health challenges. Since all of these deal with the use of illegal drugs and inappropriate use of legal drugs (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, prescription medication), a lot of people commonly use these terms interchangeably. However, the interventions for each issue greatly vary. That’s why correctly identifying a person’s drug problem is crucial. Read on to learn the critical differences between drug misuse, abuse, and addiction.
What is drug misuse?
Drug misuse is generally associated with prescription medicines. Prescription medicines are meant to be taken as directed by doctors. This is because these types of drugs can cause adverse side effects if directions are not followed.
Drug misuse happens when these substances are taken for a purpose that is not consistent with legal or medical guidelines. Examples of this include:
- Taking the incorrect dose
- Taking the drug at the wrong time
- Forgetting to take a dose
- Stopping the use of a drug too soon
- Taking a drug for reasons other than why they were prescribed
- Taking a drug that was not prescribed to you
What is drug abuse?
Drug abuse happens when drugs, including alcohol, illicit drugs, or any psychoactive substances, are misused to get high or inflict self-harm. It is also known as substance use disorder (SUD) since people who abuse drugs experience significantly altered thinking, behavior, and body functions.
What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction, also known as severe SUD, is a brain disorder that manifests as the uncontrollable use of a substance despite its consequences. People with drug addiction have a physical and/or psychological need to take a substance because they suffer intense or debilitating withdrawal symptoms when they go without that substance.
How is drug misuse different from drug abuse?
The key difference between a person who misuses drugs and a person who abuses drugs is their intent. The former takes a drug to treat a specific ailment, whereas the latter uses a drug to elicit certain feelings.
An example of drug misuse is when a person who can’t fall asleep after taking a single sleeping pill takes another pill an hour later hoping that “it’ll do the job.” However, it’s drug abuse when a person consumes sleeping pills to manage their moods or acquire a “buzz,” or — in worst-case scenarios — to commit suicide.
How is drug abuse different from drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a severe form of drug abuse. The distinction between the two disorders lies in how much control the user can exercise over themselves. Since a person who abuses drugs still has control over their life, they don’t experience major disruption in their life.
In contrast, those with an addiction have a disorder that affects most if not all aspects of their lives. They often miss work or school, endanger their families physically and/or financially, suffer health problems, get into legal trouble, and other serious issues because of their substance use. But despite these, they are unable to change their habits to improve their situation. This is why many people with drug addiction become jobless, homeless, or separated from their families. Some even die from their substance use.
How do you get help for drug misuse, abuse, and addiction?
Since drug misuse isn’t a disorder, a simple reprimand may help remedy the issue. However, repeated drug misuse can easily escalate to drug abuse and eventually addiction. This is because it can lead to increased drug tolerance then drug dependency where cognitive, behavioral, and physiological problems develop.
In drug abuse cases, an honest conversation about drug abuse and its consequences can inspire a person to change since they still have control over their behavior. It’s important though that they understand all the psychological, social, legal, mental, and spiritual repercussions of substance abuse.
On the other hand, willpower is not enough to change the behavior of a person with a drug addiction. As their bodies are already chemically dependent on a substance, they would need pharmacotherapy. The process usually starts with a medically supervised detoxification period to manage the symptoms of drug withdrawal. A mental health professional then works with the patient to tailor a recovery plan toward sobriety. This plan may involve regular attendance at support group meetings and follow-up therapy sessions to ensure that the patient has the tools and techniques to help them maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle.
Meridian Psychiatric Partners offers therapy sessions and other treatments to help you resolve any type of drug problem. Schedule a consultation with us to get started. We serve clients in Chicago, Evanston, and Lake Forest.
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