The Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug AbuseDrug Addiction and Drug Abuse

When you hear the terms “drug addiction” and “drug abuse” you probably paint a very similar image in your mind. That image is someone who is constantly using drugs and can only think about the next time they’ll be able to do them. While both of these terms do have to do with someone using drugs, they both have different implications. Preferred Med Supply will help you better understand these terms and what they imply. 

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic illness that causes someone to compulsively seek out and use a drug, even when it negatively affects their well-being. The first time you usually use a drug is by choice, but repeated uses of a drug can change the way your brain functions. These changes decrease your self-control and make it more difficult to resist the urge to use a certain drug.

These brain changes can be difficult to reverse and are sometimes permanent. Stepping away from a drug for years can still increase the likelihood of a “relapse” which results in using the substance again. 

Drug addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. There are lots of different treatment programs that help with addiction and life-long recovery. 

What is Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse (also known as substance abuse) is when you choose to take a drug even when you’re aware that it is harmful to your health. This includes taking illegal drugs and using prescribed medication differently from how it was prescribed to you. Taking in illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin is substance abuse. Taking prescription drugs in order to experience the “high” it provides is also considered substance abuse. 

Drug abuse can cause long-term damage to your physical and mental well-being. It also increases the chance of an overdose which happens when you take in more of a drug than your body can handle. Overdoing is a serious issue in the United States as it was the leading cause of injury-related deaths in 2019. 

Substance abuse can also cause devastating social damage. Drug abuse leads to the spread of hepatitis, HIV, fetal defects, crime, violence, and disruptions in the home and workplace. It costs the United States billions of dollars each year to deal with these repercussions. 

What is the Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is using a drug in a harmful way. Drug addiction is when someone compulsively seeks out a drug. 

Abuse does not necessarily lead to drug addiction. You can abuse a certain substance without becoming addicted to it. You can use marijuana for several months before an addiction develops. 

Highly addictive drugs, however, can lead to drug addiction quickly. You can develop a heroin addiction after only a few uses. 

Drug’s Affects on the Brain

Drugs are a chemical and when you use a drug, it travels into your brain, changing how your brain cells function and how nerve cells send, receive, and process information. 

Different types of drugs will affect the brain in different ways. There are at least two main ways that drugs work on the brain.

Imitating the Brain’s Natural Chemical Messengers

Drugs such as marijuana and heroin contain structures that look and act as neurotransmitters in our brains. Our brain’s receptors will think that these are normal cells and lock on to them. They’ll even send out messages to our brain as normal neurotransmitters would. Unfortunately, these drugs don’t work as normal neurotransmitters would. The messages they send out are abnormal which results in damage to our brains and bodies. 

Other drugs will affect how nerve cells release dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for pleasurable feelings. Drugs such as cocaine cause nerve cells to release too much dopamine or stop cells from properly recycling dopamine in the usual way. This results in exaggerated messages in the brain which disrupts communication channels. This causes issues in our brains and bodies. 

“Reward System”

Drugs such as marijuana and cocaine can manipulate the brain’s reward system. The reward system in our brain is natural and healthy and is how the brain works. When you eat a piece of cake or go to the gym, your nerve cells release a small amount of dopamine. This makes the activity you’ve just done pleasurable. It makes you want to do the activity again. 

Using drugs affects this reward system. Taking the drug releases a large amount of dopamine in response to the drug, producing a feeling of euphoria. This makes the brain crave the drug again in order to feel that pleasure once more. These urges can be intense. 

Extended use of a drug can make your brain release dopamine in response to cues related to the drug. This can include seeing someone else do the drug, being in the place you usually do drugs or smelling the odor of a drug. 

The damage that drugs can do to your brain can be drastic, sometimes irreversible. This is why addiction is viewed as a chronic illness. 

Developing a Physical Dependency

Taking a drug multiple times makes your brain adapt to the increase of dopamine released. Neurons will start making less dopamine or reduce the number of receptors. This can lead you to start feeling more depressed and unable to enjoy things that you used to. You will begin to seek out the drug in order to feel that pleasure once again. This means you are physically dependent. 

Being physically dependent will come with a number of withdrawal symptoms when you’re not using it. These can be uncomfortable and in some cases dangerous. 

Signs of drug addiction include:

  • Needing a drug to cope with a problem
  • Losing interest in hobbies
  • Losing friends 
  • Missing days of work
  • Stealing from family and friends
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Changes in friend groups
  • Needing more of a drug to feel the same result

Signs of drug abuse include:

  • Legal problems with drugs
  • Physical harm to others
  • Inability to complete tasks
  • Continuing to use a drug caused by drug abuse.

Get Ahead of Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction

Drug abuse and drug addiction are both things that no person or family should have to go through. In order to prevent either of these from happening, it’s best to see the signs before it goes too far. Preferred Med Supply has drug testing cups, swabs, and strips that can help you spot drug use before it’s too late. Visit our store page today to see our full inventory.

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