Understanding the Blurred Lines Between Abuse and Addiction
Updated: November 1, 2020
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What is Addiction?

Not everyone who uses a drug will become addicted.  Addiction is the process in which the brain and body become reliant on a substance. Addiction, or Substance Use Disorder, is classified as a brain disorder in the DSM-5. The most recent edition only 2 criteria are required for a diagnosis. Drug use is not the same for everyone. Many people who try drugs never become addicted. Yet, some will become instantly hooked. They are consumed with “chasing the dragon” and seeking out the next high.

Fighting the Stigma of Drug Rehab

Drug addiction is a growing epidemic in America. The public is desensitized to the medical and psychological needs that are necessary to treat addiction. Addicts who hit rock bottom are often without support. The American Society of Addiction Medicine agrees that addiction is a progressive and complex brain disorder. Educating the public regarding addiction is a critical step to destigmatize drug treatment programs.

However, little progress has altered the minds of the public. The stigma and shame of addiction continue to prevent many people from seeking the care they require. The constant blame for their disease only promotes shames. There is no shortage of information proving that addiction is a progressive brain disease. Still, this doesn’t stop many from condemning addicts. Addiction is still considered as a moral failing.

What is Spectrum Addiction Abuse?

Spectrum abuse encompasses everything from mild concerns to advanced addiction. By viewing drug consumption on a spectrum, we see problems sooner. People can be struggling long before they would have traditionally been labeled an addict. On one end of the spectrum is experimentation and, on the other, someone in the grips of advanced addiction. Between those two extremes, there is plenty of grey area. While these do not always indicate an issue, they can provide a way to make a clear assessment.

Determining Where You Are on the Addiction Spectrum

When considering where someone falls on that spectrum, we look at 10 different issues. Taking a close look at these behaviors is helpful in a number of ways. It helps put someone’s drinking in perspective without judgment. It can also show how easy it is to go from being a moderate drinker to someone who is exhibiting addictive behaviors. This gives them a warning if they are developing an issue.

  • Desire to Limit Use – Do you want to limit your use and have difficulty?
  • Lack of Control – Do drugs seem like less of a choice and more of a need? Do you sometimes lose track of how much drugs you use?
  • Time Spent with Acquisition – Do you spend more time than usual seeking out drugs?
  • Cravings – When a certain time of day or a stressful situation arises, do you find yourself craving drugs? Do you wake up wanting to use?
  • Changed Priorities – Do drugs take priority over other obligations? Are you avoiding time with family, work, or other engagements?
  • Impacting Relationships – Has your drug been the focus of arguments or disagreements with close family and friends?
  • Reckless Behavior – Do you use drugs before heading to a family gathering? Have to ‘pre-partied’ ahead of a concert or sporting event even when you know you need to drive?
  • Loss of Interest – Are you spending more time alone using drugs? Is your drug use more appealing over hobbies or pastimes that once brought you joy?
  • Tolerance – Does it seem to take more drugs to get the same effect?
  • Withdrawal Symptoms – Do you suffer with negative symptoms when you stop using drugs? Even mild withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and interrupted sleep patterns are a red flag.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of red flags when it comes to addiction. It does, however, show how gradually the issue can develop.

The Four Stages of Addiction

There is no scientific formula that tells you when you inevitably develop a substance use disorder. However, drug rehab specialists agree that addiction has four distinct stages. Drug use or experimentation, misuse of drugs, abuse of drugs, and drug dependency or addiction are the four stages. Some may only stay within the first or second stages of use and never progress into drug addiction. When you are in the third stage of drug abuse, there is a high likelihood that you will develop an addiction.

STAGE 1: Drug Experimentation

The first time you use a drug is a choice. It is often referred to as a “milestone” in teenage and adult life. This behavior should never be encouraged, peer pressure and foolish curiosity can lead to momentary lapses in personal judgment. It may be a social drink with friends or smoking a marijuana joint. During experimentation, the first time uses are often without negative consequences.

STAGE 2: Substance Misuse

During the stage of misuse, you begin dealing with negative consequences. The regular misuse of any drug is a telltale sign of an addict in waiting. Over time, substance misuse can become an unhealthy way to respond to stress. Regularly misusing substances begin to transform the way your brain functions.

STAGE 3: Abuse

Abuse is an escalating cycle that ends with a full-blown addiction. Frequent misuse of drugs, despite consequences, results in a more serious stage, abuse. When you enter the drug abuse stage, you experience intense cravings. The need and desire to obtain drugs become a priority over anything in your life.

STAGE 4: Addiction and Dependency

Once you have begun to abuse drugs, you will most likely develop a drug addiction. Addictions can be physical, psychological, emotional. When you are at this stage specialized help is needed to stop the cycle.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Stigma and shame can reinforce drug use. If you are struggling with an addiction it can be impossible to stop without professional addiction treatment. The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to seek help. Recovery is a personal journey. Addiction is a multifaceted brain disorder. There is no cure, only preventive steps you can take to avoid relapses. Many require multiple attempts at drug rehab before they can successfully overcome their addiction. It is doesn’t matter where you are in the progression of addiction, what counts is your commitment to change.