Is it Abuse? Is it Addiction?

Addiction begins as abuse, or using a substance like marijuana or cocaine. You can abuse a drug (or alcohol) without having an addiction. For example, smoking marijuana a few times doesn’t mean that you have an addiction, but it does mean that you are abusing a drug and that could lead to an addiction.

When you think of addiction, you usually think of illegal drugs alcohol. But people can become addicted to all sorts of medications, cigarettes, even glue! And some substances are more addictive than others: Drugs like crack or heroin are so addictive that they may only be used once or twice before the user loses control.

You cross the line between substance abuse and addiction when you are no longer trying the drug to have fun or get high, but because you depend on it.Your life centers on the need for the drug. As an addicted person, whether it’s a physical or psychological addiction or both, you no longer have a choice in taking a substance.

This maladaptive pattern can be identified by the presence of three (or more) of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

• The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended;

• Persistent desire and/or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use;

• A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance (e.g., visiting  multiple doctors or driving long distances), use the substance (e.g., chain smoking), or recover from its effects;

• Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of time and/or energy and/or money involved in using substance;

• Continued substance use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by use of the substance;

• Tolerance for the substance becomes defined by either:

1. Need for greater amounts of the substance in order to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or

2. Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.

• Withdrawal from the substance is manifested by either:

1. Characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or

2. The same (or closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment Can and Does Work

Extensive data document that drug addiction treatment is as effective as treatments for most other similarly chronic medical conditions. Because of such obstacles to the right facts as personal denial and incorrect information issued by the press, thousands of people are getting misinformation instead of the help they need.

In spite of sound evidence that establishes the effectiveness of professional drug abuse treatment; many people still believe that treatment will be ineffective. Distrusting treatment can also stem from unrealistic expectations. Many people equate addiction with simply using drugs and so they expect a quick cure–and if it is not cured quickly, they think treatment is a failure.

Addiction is more than an uncontrollable desire for substances; it is an underlying behavior pattern with deeply emotional roots. Successful treatment requires digging down and revealing the long-ingrained pattern at the root level. What’s often revealed is behavior born of anger, helplessness, and shame, compounded by intense desires for immediate escape from these unsettling feelings. Because addiction is a chronic disorder, the ultimate goal of successful, long-term abstinence often requires dedication to sustained and repeated treatment.