In the rehabilitation arena, substance abuse refers to over-consumption of natural or chemical drugs, including alcohol and addictive medication, which is detrimental to the wellbeing of the abuser and, most often, also unsettles other people. The person may abuse the substance occasionally or persistently. Abuse often leads to dependency and, ultimately, addiction.

The differences between abuse, dependency and addiction

When it comes to drugs, the word abuse is often used as a synonym for dependency and addiction. Although there are differences, the three words are used interchangeably by the mainstream media and by society in general. In clinical circles, there are complicated discussions about their exact definition, but for practical purposes this overview will suffice:

Abuse is a sketchy word. In general terms, it simply means over-indulgence, regardless of whether it is occasional or habitually persistent. In essence, the word is generally applied to any form or pattern of irresponsible drug usage. Even moderate use of so-called “hard” drugs is seen as abuse, because of the extremely high inherent risk of these illegal substances.

Dependency develops when a user becomes reliant on a drug to achieve a state of comfort under specific conditions. Although it may cause concern, users have a measure of control and only turn to the drug when a situation calls for it. In the early stages it is usually not seen as a big problem, but it is a known passage to addiction. Because it is difficult to draw a clear line between dependency and the onset of addiction, the more “neutral” word dependency is often used in place of the “harsher” addiction.

Addiction is when abusers lose control and become intensely focused on obtaining and using a drug. Their bodies develop a tolerance to the drug and require ever larger volumes of the drug to attain the same level of relieve. Addicts will sacrifice things dear to them and take risks to satisfy their cravings. They persist with this, regardless of the negative consequences, mainly because they fear the unpleasant symptoms that reduction or termination of the drug will cause.

The consequences of substance abuse

Many people abuse alcohol now and then, or even experiment with drugs. Many get away with it for a fairly long time. That once-off fun event can introduce you to substances that tempt you to use them again and again, because they make you feel good.

You may not even be aware of an underlying emotional constraint that withholds you from enjoying life, but a single encounter with a substance suddenly opens a new door for you. It enables you to joyfully do things you avoided in the past. Alternatively, you may feel a heavenly relieve from stress or anxiety. This is the lure of drugs – it gives us a false sense of wellbeing for a short while and tempts us to revisit it.

Even as an occasional exercise, substance abuse is bad idea, because it exposes us to embarrassment, arguments, clashes with the law, accidents and injuries. The worst part is that it can easily become repetitive, with the potential to destroy the abuser.

Abuse is a known gateway to addiction, which causes relationship problems, financial hardship, poor mental and physical health, loss of employment and a myriad other complications. Death becomes a reality for most abusers who develop addiction.

Prevention and action

Prevention is the fundamental and most desirable solution to all disorders, but in matters of abuse there are complex challenges. No addict starts off with the intention of becoming addicted. They believe that they can control the situation forever. Unfortunately, the worldwide drug problem proves that the opposite happens more often than we think.

A single pleasant interaction with a drug can trigger a process that overtly sneaks into your life with deadly precision and stealthily drives you into a corner. As it progresses, you try to hide it and even promise yourself that you will stop sometime soon. Eventually you are so dependent on the drug that you will do anything to avoid being without it. You will also resist any attempt to help you to get rid of the addiction.

There is, however, only one lasting solution. You have to get proper professional treatment that will not only get you over the initial withdrawals, but will also arm you with the skills to cope with life afterwards – such as dealing with embarrassing or uncomfortable situations, as well as actually enjoying life without the need for drugs and without the constraints that initially drove you to addiction.

If you want more advice about substance abuse, feel free to call the number at the top of this page for more comprehensive guidance or a confidential appointment with an experienced counselor.