Substance Abuse vs. Dependence vs. Addiction Treatment: Who Needs What?
One of the biggest difficulties in addiction treatment is defining addiction. For any other medical treatment, this problem doesn’t exist. For instance, doctors have no problem recognizing a broken leg when they see it. They are able to diagnose and treat it accordingly. However, addiction isn’t so simple. What’s the difference between addiction, substance abuse and dependence? One often looks like the other, but can we treat all the same?
Substance Abuse & Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance abuse is defined as continuing to use drugs/alcohol in spite of negative consequences. The key part of this definition is the effects that drugs and alcohol have on a person. If a drinker continues to drink in spite of multiple arrests and DUIs, he or she is said to suffer from substance abuse.
Substance abuse treatment can range from traditional addiction treatment to therapy. In some cases, substance abuse ends due to outside circumstances. It may be a case of reckless youth or a certain phase in a person’s life. In such cases, substance abuse treatment need not happen at all. However, in many cases substance abuse does lead to dependence, which needs the right kind of addiction treatment.
Drug Dependence & Drug Dependence Treatment
Whereas substance abuse is the defined by the consequences of drug use, drug dependence is defined by the effects of drug use — the physical effects of using drugs and/or alcohol. There are two physical effects of dependence:
- Tolerance – needing to use more of a given drug to get the same level of intoxication (e.g. 1 drink one week, then 2 drinks another week)
- Withdrawal – if you feel physical and mental effects such as sleep deprivation, seizures, tremors, etc. when you stop taking a drug.
Dependence is treated at a drug detox facility, which medically facilitates the process of withdrawal. Once an addict has withdrawn, their body is physically rid of drugs and alcohol. This means they no longer have a tolerance to drugs/alcohol.
Addiction & Addiction Treatment
Addiction is related to yet still different from both substance abuse and dependence:
- Substance Abuse vs. Addiction – Substance abuse can lead to addiction, but it doesn’t always. In fact, according to a new report by the CDC, most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics. They may just be going through a phase or a problem. When they get over this, they get over their substance abuse. They may not need addiction treatment.
- Dependence vs. Addiction – Dependence is always part of addiction, but addiction isn’t always part of dependence. For example, there are people who get hooked on painkillers they’ve been legitimately prescribed. All they need is detox, but they do not need other components of addiction treatment such as therapy.
Substance abuse can lead to dependence, and dependence can lead to addiction. In addiction, drugs affect you more than physically (dependence) and mentally (substance abuse). They affect you spiritually. Drugs run your life. They are the reason for waking up in the morning. It’s not enough to simply take away drugs when there is nothing to take their place.
What is addiction treatment, then? Treating addiction requires treating substance abuse as well as dependence. But it must also teach addicts a new way of life. It must offer a long-term solution for the long-term problem of addiction. When an addict has found something to replace their addiction (not just another addiction, but a new force that gives their life meaning), they can be said to be in recovery.