Is it substance abuse or substance addiction?

GenPsych May 2018

How to tell if your substance abuse has changed into an addiction.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between substance abuse and substance addiction.

We will define each and then list the signs and symptoms to watch out for. Finally, we take a look at some of the myths that surround the treatment of addiction.

A substance Abuse is using drugs or alcohol in a way it was not intended, consuming excessive amounts on a regular basis. As an example, using prescription pain medication to get high or feel euphoric, or binge drinking alcohol for the same results. An addiction starts when a person understands they have a substance abuse problem but they can’t stop consuming the substance because they have developed a dependence.

These symptoms of a substance dependence can be either or both physical and mental.

Most people go through a process which starts with a substance abuse, then over time changes into an addiction with a mental or physical dependence. The person eventually believes they need the substance to feel normal.  

Some common symptoms of drug/alcohol abuse include:

  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work or home due to drug and or alcohol use.

  • Erratic mood swings (the person you know changes).

  • Getting into dangerous situations or risky behavior, such as driving under the influence.

  • Legal troubles and arrests for possession or DWI.

  • Deteriorating relationships, fighting with partners, other family members, boss at work.

Common signs of an addiction to drugs or alcohol include:

  • Abandoning your usual activities such as hobbies, sports, and friends.

  • Increased tolerance for the abused substance. Must use more of the drug to experience the same effects.

  • Having to take the substance to avoid or relieve symptoms of withdrawal. When going too long without taking the substance they have symptoms of nausea, restlessness, insomnia, aches and pains, lethargy, depression, sweating, tremors, anxiety and possibly even seizures.

  • Surrendering to the substance. Addicts want to stop but have a powerful compulsion to continue taking the substance.

  • Continuing taking the substance even though it is causing trouble at home, work or any other aspect of their life.

In most cases, the first and biggest sign of a substance addiction is the inability to stop taking it. People who are abusing drugs or alcohol almost never realize their recreational habit has become a full-blown addiction. Even worse, the mental and physical need for the drug prevents most addicts from quitting no matter how much they want to stop.

This happens because the repeated abuse of drugs or alcohol causes injuries to the brain, and over time can alter the brain’s chemistry. These changes the brain lead to a physical dependence and the inability to control the use of the substance. The frontal lobes of the brain responsible for rational thought are bypassed.

GenPsych has five treatment centers located throughout New Jersey. We offer an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) to help our clients recover from Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Alcohol and Drug Addiction. If you or a loved one need help, don’t wait, start today.

Phone: 855-436-7792