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When Does Substance Use Become Substance Abuse?

Substance use is quite common in our society, and it involves the consumption of alcohol, drugs, and other psychoactive substances. Many people inevitably engage in substance use for various reasons, some for recreational purposes, while others for coping with stress and pain. However, there is a thin line between regular substance use and substance abuse. When does substance use become substance abuse, and what are the distinguishing factors? We will explore these questions and highlight the key differences between substance use and substance abuse.

Substance Use vs. Substance Abuse

Substance use involves the recreational or therapeutic consumption of psychoactive substances, while substance abuse is the excessive and compulsive use of a substance, leading to negative consequences. In substance abuse, the individual may continue using the substance despite adverse physical, social, or psychological effects. The frequency and quantity of substance use are critical factors in determining substance abuse.

The Role of Addiction and Dependence

Addiction refers to the persistent and compulsive use of a substance despite adverse consequences, while dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms when the substance use is discontinued. Addiction and dependence significantly contribute to the transition from substance use to abuse. The neurological changes that occur with repeated substance use make it harder for the individual to resist using the substance despite negative consequences.

Signs of Substance Abuse

The signs and symptoms of substance abuse vary depending on the substance of choice, but some common indicators include:

  • Neglecting major responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Developing a tolerance and requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects
  • Experiencing blackouts or memory loss
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence
  • Lying and deceptive behavior to hide substance use

Diagnosing Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders are diagnosed based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). According to the DSM, a diagnosis of substance use disorder requires experiencing at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:

  • Using the substance in larger amounts or for longer periods than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop substance use
  • Spending considerable time obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Craving or a strong desire to use the substance
  • Neglecting major responsibilities due to substance use
  • Continuing substance use despite causing recurrent social or interpersonal problems
  • Decreased participation in social, work, or recreational activities
  • Recurrent use of the substance in hazardous situations
  • Continued substance use despite being aware of its adverse consequences
  • Developing tolerance or withdrawal symptoms

Treatment Options for Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders can significantly impact an individual's life. However, substance abuse can be treated, and recovery is possible. Treatment options may include detoxification, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, counseling, support groups, and aftercare. The type and extent of treatment depends on the severity of the substance use disorder, the individual's needs, and their preferences.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, please contact our team at Mount Sinai Wellness Center in Georgia by calling (800) 353-4673 or by filling out our online form for further information.

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