Drug abuse and addiction are both serious problems in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that the financial cost of drug and alcohol addiction is more than $700 billion dollars each year in lost productivity and healthcare. The human cost is even greater in the form of ruined lives and even deaths.

Yet, people sometimes have trouble recognizing the signs of alcohol abuse and drug addiction in their friends and loved ones. This is unfortunate in that early intervention can often mean a greater chance of recovery.

Drug Abuse vs Addiction

Drug abuse and drug addiction may seem similar on the surface, but there are differences.

Drug abuse is the misuse of legal or illegal drugs such as the binge use of drugs or alcohol or using prescription drugs in a manner other than as prescribed. Therefore, the person who gets drunk every night and the student who uses someone else’s Adderall would both be abusing drugs or alcohol.

Drug addiction is the physical, mental, or emotional dependence upon legal or illegal drugs or alcohol. Generally, someone who is addicted to a substance experiences withdrawal symptoms when he stops using the substance. These withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe depending upon the substance. Therefore, the person who can no longer sleep without drinking alcohol, or that student who can’t get out of bed without the Adderall would both have an addiction.

It is possible to abuse drugs without developing an addiction, and it’s also possible to develop an addiction without abuse.

For example:

The standard recommendation for alcohol consumption is one alcoholic drink per day. That averages to 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of brandy or hard alcohol. It is possible for someone to only drink the recommended amount of alcohol every night, yet still be dependent on it to relieve stress or induce sleep. What determines addiction is not how much the person uses, but what happens when the person stops using.

The Signs of Abuse

The biggest sign of abuse is that the person is using drugs or alcohol in ways that were not intended by the manufacturer or prescriber. Now, when it comes to substances like alcohol, or illicit drugs, it can be difficult to determine what is intended by the manufacturer since they are essentially manufactured to alter your consciousness. In some cases, you could even say that using the substance at all constitutes abuse. However, there are also matters of degree.

As stated previously, if someone is consuming alcohol, or illicit drugs with the intent to get as altered as humanly possible that could be crossing the line from simple use into abuse. If she uses prescription drugs for off-label purposes, or if she takes higher doses or take it more often than the doctor recommends, that can also be a sign of abuse. Also, mixing the drugs with other substances – such as drinking alcohol while taking prescription sedatives – even if he has a legal prescription, could be considered abuse.

The Signs of Addiction

As stated previously, addiction means that she has an actual dependence on the substance – that she is unable to function normally without it. This could mean something as minor as being unable to sleep without drugs or alcohol, to something as major as not being able to function at all. It also means that she experiences withdrawal when she doesn’t use her substance(s) of choice, and that she has trouble controlling her usage of the substance.

For example, he might continually take higher doses than prescribed or intended, even when he tries not to, or be unable to stop using the substance, even when making a strong effort not to.

Treating and Resolving Drug Abuse and Addiction

If your friend or loved one is in the early stages of abuse, and has not yet become addicted, he might be able to stop cold-turkey. However, it’s not unusual at that stage for people to ignore the warning signs of abuse and continue using. The drug treatment professionals recommend that people with drug and alcohol abuse issues seek some form of counseling, be it group meetings, individual or in-patient treatment. By getting professional help, you can address the root cause of the drug or alcohol abuse, and build a strong foundation for stopping the abuse before it becomes a full-blown addiction.

If he has crossed over into the addictive stage, then he will definitely need some type of counseling or support to help him detox and overcome the physical, mental, and behavioral effects of the addiction.