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Recognizing the Difference between Substance Abuse and Dependence


There is a different between substance abuse and dependence.

There is a different between substance abuse and dependence.

An individual who drinks or uses drugs is not necessarily addicted to the substances of choice but how do you tell the difference between substance abuse and actual dependence? Many people who casually use drugs or alcohol can do so on a casual basis for years without ever actually becoming dependent on the substance but others may only use a substance once and begin building a tolerance and subsequent dependence on the substance. Here’s a look at how you can recognize the difference between substance abuse and substance dependence.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is described as the use of substance that causes an individual to suffer harmful consequences during the use. If an individual has any of the following situations occur during the period of one year while using substances then they are considered substance abusers:

  • They miss work or school because they were using drugs or alcohol
  • They do not meet obligations as a result of drug or alcohol use
  • They take part in reckless activities such as drinking and driving or promiscuity
  • They get arrested or encounter other legal problems as a result of drinking or using drugs
  • They continue to use drugs or alcohol even though their loved ones ask them not to

The above stated signs do not mean that an individual is addicted to the substance, just that they show signs of having a substance abuse problem. In order for an individual to be considered dependent on drugs or alcohol there must be even more serious and severe consequences that have resulted from their use of the drugs or alcohol.

Substance Dependence

Medical professionals view substance dependence as a more severe form of substance abuse that has escalated to cause behavioral problems and psychological issues. Although not all signs may be present when an addict is suffering from substance dependence, if an individual shows 3 or more of the following psychological or behavioral patterns over the course of 12 months while using drugs or alcohol they are considered to have a dependence problem:

  • They build a tolerance to the substance and require more and more in order to achieve the same level of intoxication
  • They experience discomforting or noticeable physical and psychological side effects (withdrawal signs) when they stop using the substance
  • They can’t stop using once they start—such as one drink turns into two and two into three and so on until the liquor is gone
  • They set limits for themselves (I’ll only have 2 drinks) and then they exceed those limits (end up drinking 8 drinks or drinking until the alcohol is gone)
  • They don’t spend time doing other things because they are in a rush to drink or use the drugs. Time once spent playing with children or cleaning or taking part in a hobby is now spent drinking or using drugs instead
  • They spend valuable time in excess in an effort to find drugs or alcohol or to come up with the money for their next fix. Then excessive time is spent using the drugs or alcohol
  • They continue to use drugs or alcohol despite known health conditions that have erupted from the substance use or despite deteriorating health

 Rehab Centers for Substance Dependence

Those suffering from substance dependence need help to stop using. Rehab Centers can help individuals overcome the physical, psychological and behavioral problems that result from substance dependence. Without the help of rehab centers and specialized treatment for dependence, many find themselves suffering from dependence on drugs or alcohol for many years, in and out of trouble and sometimes suffering dire consequences. If you or someone you know is showing signs of substance dependence, contact a Rehab Centers referral specialist today at 1 (888) 461 2155 to find a local rehab center that can help you.

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