What is the Difference Between Substance Use and Substance Abuse?

Difference Between Substance Use and Abuse

In 2016, more than 20 million people in the US were diagnosed with substance abuse disorders within the previous year. These disorders included abusing either alcohol or drugs. The sad ending to a number of these stories is that there were over 70,000 addicts who died from an overdose in 2017.

Many people use the terms substance use, and substance abuse, interchangeably. Even though many people can differentiate between the concepts of use and abuse, the definition becomes blurry after a while. Some believe they are using a substance responsibly, when in actuality they are putting themselves at risk of abuse, and eventually addiction.

Let’s discuss the key differences between substance use, and substance abuse. Knowing those differences could save a life.

How “Legal” Drugs Create a Problem

One of the main differences between substance use and substance abuse is that recreational substance use is allowed by law in the United States for a number of different substances. Recreational drugs like alcohol, caffeine, and marijuana are commonly enjoyed in social settings. Drinking a beer with dinner isn’t necessarily considered “abuse.”

Substance users, like alcoholics, will generally cross the threshold into the term “substance abuse” when they consistently consume amounts that are beyond medical or legal guidelines. Drinking enough beers to raise your blood alcohol level beyond the legal requirements to drive a car, wanders into the definition of substance abuse.

Consistent abuse can lead to risky addictions further down the road. Addiction sets in when the pursuit of drinking, doing drugs, or getting high, will take up the majority of their time. When this happens, addiction treatment can step in and help patients lead a substance-free life.

What are the Signs of Substance Abuse?

Some of the signs of substance abuse are subtle, while other signs might be more obvious. Some of these physical and behavioral signs of substance abuse include the following:

Physical Signs

  • Problems staying asleep, wakefulness at unusual times
  • Sudden weight gain/loss, changed eating habits
  • Hyperactive, chatty, excessive talking
  • Poor coordination, stumbling or slowed walking

Behavioral Signs

  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Sudden anger issues, tantrums, oversensitive or resentful conduct
  • Troubles staying focused; forgetful

What are the Signs of Addiction?

The physical and behavioral signs of addiction are more overt and dramatic. Here are some of the signs you’ll learn how to recognize that someone might need addiction counseling or other help.

Physical Signs

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Chronic bad breath, body odors
  • Constant runny nose, sniffling
  • Garbled speech

Behavioral Signs

  • Ingesting larger amounts of drugs or alcohol over shorter periods of time to experience the same effects
  • Hiding or lying about the amount of substances consumed. May also include consuming in secrecy or in private
  • Knowingly participating in activities (i.e., swim, drive a car) that are dangerous to do while drunk or high

Next Steps to Take

If you have any outstanding questions about the difference between substance use and substance abuse, talk to your doctor. Ask them what appropriate levels of recreational substance use are.

Tell them if you’ve noticed a loved one spending excessive amounts of time looking to take drugs or drink alcohol. Your physician can help you assess the situation and decide if your loved one needs substance abuse counseling treatment.

Don’t forget to check our website for more information on our group or individual counseling services. We’re here to teach the skills necessary to manage your life. In time, we know our patients will learn how to do it all on their own.