The terms “substance abuse: and “addiction” are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. Substance abuse is the act of abusing a drug (prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal) or substances like alcohol for the wrong reasons, in incorrect amounts, and without proper medical approval. When substance abuse becomes a clinical health concern, it is termed a substance use disorder (SUD) and is demonstrated through symptoms of impaired control, social impairment, and other criteria.
Looking Deeper into Substance Abuse
Drug and alcohol abuse does not majorly disrupt a person’s life; this does not mean that substance abuse is okay. Substance abuse causes damage to the body, mind, and spirit. Risks of infectious diseases, overdose, organ damage, and other bodily harms still exist with even casual use. A person may use mind-altering substances to cope with life’s stresses instead of utilizing healthier habits.
It is essential to understand that substance abuse can lead to addiction. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know, some signs of substance abuse you can look out for are as follows:
- Taking more of the drug and/or for longer than prescribed or intended
- Spending unreasonable amounts of time obtaining and using
- Cravings or urges to use
- Abandoning relationships or life goals
- Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
The main difference between drug and alcohol abuse vs. addiction is, addiction is a disease that affects most if not all areas of a person’s life. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” Contrary to what some people think, addiction is not a choice. The first time a person uses it is a choice, maybe due to trying to relieve stress or caving in from social pressure. However, as a person continues to use, their sense of control becomes impaired. It literally becomes an internal battle to say, “No, not today.”
How Addiction Affects the Brain
Addiction is considered a brain disorder because it changes how your brain functions in areas like reward, stress, and self-control. Physical brain changes can be observed during brain-imaging in regions known to be central to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. The prefrontal cortex is where essential decision-making occurs, like saying no to harmful drugs. Damage to this area of the brain can alter your ability to identify the harm of using addictive substances. However, this is one area drugs and alcohol change and, after continual abuse, cripple.
It is thought that the compulsive nature of addiction is due to such changes. Even after a person has gone through detox, treatment and continues through recovery, the brain’s effects may still be hanging around. This means there is a risk of the addiction returning, also known as relapse. If you talk to someone who’s in recovery, they might tell you that even though they’ve been clean for a while, there isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t think about using. It’s like some external factor controls your mind, and it takes a lot of work to make it autonomous again.
I Know People Who’ve Taken Drugs, but They’re Not Addicts!
This is a fair question and also a compelling area of research. Some people can try a variety of drugs and never become addicted. They can forget it ever even happened and go about their day. On the other hand, others end up losing control of their life, regretting the day they even looked at their drug of choice. How could this be? There is no definite answer. However, there are indeed risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted and protective factors that reduce a person’s risk. Some risk factors include:
- Aggression or abuse during childhood
- Lack of parental supervision
- Parental drug use and illegal activity
- Absence of healthy familial and social relationships
- Community poverty
Your environment matters. A person may be less at risk if they exhibit self-control, have good grades, have healthy familial and social relationships, and if their neighborhood has accessible resources.
A fascinating biological phenomenon called epigenetics – the change in expression of particular genes due to environmental factors – is estimated to account for 40-60% of a person’s risk. Specific genes have been attributed to addiction, and it is common for the disease to run in families.
Cultural drinking and smoking (tobacco and marijuana) can influence use (think the stereotypical Irishman or islander). Persons with mental health disorders are also at a heightened risk of drug use and subsequent addiction due to their already sensitive condition.
Substance abuse and addiction are not the same. However, substance abuse of any kind may lead you down the path to addiction. A person who is abusing a substance may still control other aspects of their life, even though use may be damaging their mind and body. Illicit drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol can all be squandered. Eventually, you might discover that you are no longer in control of your actions. You may no longer be able to manage your use. Suddenly, you are addicted, and that’s all you can think about. The physical brain changes that accompany addiction make it so hard to quit; addiction shouldn’t be faced alone. Luckily, you don’t have to face it alone. Located in the heart of Laguna Beach, Oceanfront Recovery provides the best care and service possible to get you back on your feet. We have programs for a diversity of substance abuse and addictions. Our caring clinical staff will walk with you through detox, treatment, and recovery. We have your continuum of care in mind. Don’t suffer another day alone; call Oceanfront today at (877) 279-1777.