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What is Drug Abuse? What is Drug Addiction?


Drug abuse is defined as a destructive pattern of substance use which leads to serious problems or distress. Drug addiction is a destructive pattern substance use that results in tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance. For many sufferers of drug abuse or addiction, a medically supervised drug treatment program is the most effective way to stop using. Drug treatment plans are customized to the individual’s needs and address various areas of the drug abuser or addict’s life. Drug treatment isn’t a magic bullet; successful recovery is usually dependent on ongoing counseling or therapy.


Types of Drug Abuse


Drug treatment programs aren’t just for users of “hard” drugs. Any substance which produces a “high” can be abused. In fact, some of the most commonly abused substances are legal and socially acceptable:


.   Alcohol

.   Nicotine

.   Prescription drugs such as opiates, tranquilizers, and stimulants

.   Inhalants, such as household cleaners


Abuse vs. Addiction – What’s the Difference?


The terms drug abuse and drug addiction are often used interchangeably, but there are several important differences between the two disorders. Drug addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance. Drug abuse is a behavioral disorder that that leads to significant distress or impairment. Below are the diagnostic criteria for each disorder:


Characteristics of drug abuse:


.   Failure to meet major responsibilities at home, school, or work. Examples include repeated absences due to substance use, school expulsions, or neglecting children in the home.

.   Recurring substance use in physically hazardous situations such as driving or operating heavy machinery when impaired.

.   Legal issues related to substance use.

.   Continuing to use the substance in spite of interpersonal or social problems caused by the effects of the substance.


Characteristics of drug addiction:


.   Needing increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect or “high”.

.   Physical withdrawal symptoms.

.   User often takes the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than he or she intended.

.   An inability to stop using the substance despite a desire to do so.

.   The user spends a great deal of his or her time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance.

.   Social, recreational, and work-related activities are neglected because of substance use.

.   The individual continues to use the substance despite significant physical or psychological problems caused by or exacerbated by using.


Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse and Addiction


Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse and addiction include:


.   Changes in sleeping or eating habits

.   Decreasing performance at work or school

.   Moodiness or irritability

.   Hyperactivity, excessive chattiness

.   Red or watery eyes with dilated pupils

.   Suspicious or secretive behavior

.   Stealing

.   Paranoia


Intervention and Getting Treatment 


People who struggle with drug abuse or addiction may be in denial about their problem and the negative effects of their behavior. An intervention can help motivate a drug abuser or addict to seek or accept treatment. Interventions need to be carefully planned to work effectively. An addiction professional can help you decide on the best approach.


Treatment Programs


Clinical drug treatment can include both medical and non-medical interventions. Common non-medical interventions include individual counseling, self-help programs, group counseling, and family or couples counseling. Medical interventions such as disulfiram and methadone are commonly used to treat alcohol and opioid dependence.


Clinical Staff


Because drug abuse and addiction are caused by many factors, treatment needs to be managed by medical professionals who are skilled and knowledgeable in addictions. Such professionals include physicians, mental health therapists, licensed addictions counselors, nurses, and social workers.


Individual Plans


Drug treatment plans are designed to address all areas of an individual’s life, not just his or her substance problem. An effective drug treatment plan must involve several components in order to help the individual stop using, stay drug-free, and become productive again at home, work, and in society.




Drug abuse and addiction are chronic conditions which require long-term recovery and ongoing therapy. Repeated treatment may be necessary in order to achieve life-long recovery.

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