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What Is The Difference Between Drug Abuse And Drug Misuse?

Defining Substance Misuse And Abuse

Those who are unfamiliar with the topic of addiction may at first find themselves confused by the terms “drug abuse” and “drug misuse.” But the subtle distinctions between drug misuse and abuse are actually important to consider when assessing a drugs’ abuse potential, as well as to what degree an individual’s use of a drug may or may not be problematic.

This is why categorizing the difference between substance misuse and abuse became a priority for a group who researched abuse and how it was defined in the context of clinical trials. The matter is also of concern to any medical professional who wants to remain as attuned as possible to the risk of addiction in their patients, and to anyone who wants to remain alert to signs of substance abuse in themselves or a loved one.

This is because, while drug misuse is by no means a good thing, it is generally less severe than drug abuse, and thus a lesser cause for alarm. Drug misuse, which is somewhat more common, is a term that simply refers to the use of any prescription medication outside of the legal or medical guidelines under which the prescription medication was initially prescribed to a specific person.

So, technically, any use of a drug outside label directions falls into this category, even if a drug user is doing something as simple as taking a missed pill late or “doubling up” after skipping accidentally skipping a dose of the drug in question.

In a somewhat more serious example of drug misuse, someone engaging in drug misuse may also take more of their prescription drugs after the drugs fail to create the desired effect, such as if their sleeping pills fail to put them to sleep or their prescription pain medication fails to relieve the pain that they are feeling.

Inappropriate use may also extend to the use of a drug for a condition other than the one it was prescribed to treat, such as powerful prescription opioid analgesics for an ordinary headache or for other minor ailments. Someone engaging in drug misuse might also take their prescription medications to take advantage of a drug side effect as opposed to the primary action the drug is known for.

For instance, someone may take a stimulant drug prescribed to them for ADHD to suppress their appetite and lose weight rather than simply to help them get through the day, or choose take the drug at the wrong time to compensate for lack of sleep. Use of over the counter medications out of accordance with the directions found on their labels can also constitute drug misuse, and so can discontinuing a prescription drug plan early.

The category of drug misuse also extends to anyone who takes a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them, even if they are using that drug to treat the effects of a legitimate mental or physical health condition. This type of prescription drug misuse also implicates the person who shared or sold their prescription medication with someone who may abuse and misuse it rather than taking the drug themselves for its intended purpose.

However, the line between drug misuse and abuse starts to blur when someone engages in the misuse of prescription medication for its positive psychoactive effects rather than physical effects. Someone abusing drugs rather than engaging in more minor drug misuse is doing so specifically in order to obtain the pleasant feelings elicited by that drug use rather than for their intended purpose—in other words, to “get high.”

As opposed to drug misuse, abuse has a greater likelihood of progressing to a drug addiction, which is also known as a substance use disorder. Though not everyone who engages in substance abuse will go on to develop a drug addiction, both drug misuse and abuse can set dangerous precedents that can kick off an addictive cycle. So, in the worst-case scenario, substance misuse can lead to downstream negative consequences that can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and emotional health.

When Substance Abuse Becomes Addiction

Substance use disorders are primarily defined by the misuse and abuse of prescription medications or illicit drugs despite the clear negative consequences of the person’s repeated substance use.

Though negative consequences alone do not always indicate an out-of-control addiction, if other certain criteria is met by the person’s substance abuse, a substance use disorder diagnosis may be warranted and psychological treatment may be required. As opposed to someone who is only engaging in substance abuse, the inability to control or limit one’s intake despite these harmful consequences is one hallmark of full blown addiction.

A person with this type of substance abuse issue may neglect aspects of their personal and professional life in order to spend more time abusing drugs, making substance abuse a higher priority than anything else in their life. They may also continue abusing drugs despite even serious physical health complications that may arise due to their drug use.

Over time, someone with addiction may also begin to experience tolerance, part of the physiological phenomena that can result from recurrent drug abuse. A person who frequently abuses drugs may find that their brain adapts to the presence of those drugs, and thus that they need to take higher and higher doses to obtain psychotropic effects like the kind they are used to.

Drug addiction is also characterized by strong cravings for the illegal drugs or prescription drugs in question when the addicted person tries to stop or reduce their use of them. At that point, the person may also experience unpleasant physical “withdrawal symptoms” in response to the cessation of their substance use.

As the National Institute of Drug Abuse notes in their definition of the term, withdrawal can also occur in someone who takes a prescription drug as directed, which is what distinguishes a drug “dependence” syndrome from drug addiction.

For instance, a medication like an opiate painkiller may cause severe physical withdrawal symptoms when a patient discontinues them even if that patient followed the guidance of their medical professional entirely. However, substance use in the context of non therapeutic purposes greatly increases the risk of developing both psychological addiction and a physical dependence syndrome.

Treatment For Drug Addiction At Reco Intensive

So, what’s the take away from all this quibbling over substance misuse, abuse, and addiction? For one thing, reflecting on the definition of substance misuse reminds us that it’s important to be aware of the dangers of non medical use of any psychoactive substances.

Initially, taking a double dose of a medication prescribed to you by your healthcare practitioner or sharing medication with a friend may seem far more innocuous than the obvious self harm associated with recreational use of illicit drugs. Yet substance abuse problems do not discriminate based on the specific aspects of how an individual started using a drug.

And only has to look at the current epidemic of opioid-related substance use disorder to see that this is not the case, as many patients suffered from addiction to hard drugs like heroin after beginning their journey of substance misuse and abuse with legitimate prescription medication.

But however someone began got sucked into drug abuse, its also important to remember that substance use disorder is not a life sentence to sorrow. While drug addiction is a chronic condition and one that can be incredibly difficult to overcome, with the right treatment and an earnest commitment to recovery, the majority of people who misuse and abuse drugs can go on to regain a sober life.

Reco Intensive is a Delray Beach addiction treatment center catering both to patients who struggle with substance abuse and those who suffer from the related disorder of behavioral addiction.

Our comprehensive addiction treatment program helps patients to get to the root of their substance abuse problem with focused individual and group therapy. And, we also offer a wide array of related therapeutic programming designed to help patients to make their way back towards holistic wellness.

We also host a weekly alumni meeting and related events for graduates of our program, which helps former patients to shield themselves from substance abuse by fostering a supportive community and a network of lasting connections.

To learn more about how our team can help you or someone you love who is currently struggling with substance abuse to put their drug abuse behind them, you can call us anytime at 844.955.3042 or contact us online anytime here. There’s no time like the present to step away from addiction and back towards a brighter future.


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