Use, Abuse, or Addiction?

Low Risk Use

use abuse or addiction

Low risk users use mood altering drugs occasionally. They do not binge, use only in socially acceptable situations, and have little, if any, evidence of health risk from their use. The Federal Government has published Sensible Drinking Guidelines for adult men and women that provide clear information about what drinking levels are associated with no detectable health risks.

One difference between low risk users and people with addiction problems is that “social users” never have to try to limit their use, make up rules around their use, or cut back on their use because of an embarrassing situation etc. People with addiction problems do these things in an effort to become social users.

Substance Abuse

Substance abusers use more alcohol than is considered “healthy,” or use any amounts of non-alcohol mood altering drugs. Substance abusers binge at levels that can be risky to their health, and use to levels of intoxication that significantly impair their judgment and moral values. They do not, though, meet the criteria for chemical dependence or addiction. Substance abuse is a behavior that many people participate in during their late teens and early 20’s. This behavior can evolve either into low risk use or addiction. Substance abusers have control over their use, unlike people who are addicted, and many people who abuse drugs don’t have problems caused by their drug abuse.


Although not a disease or illness, substance abuse is still responsible for a tremendous amount or pain and suffering in our society, including “date rapes” and other violence between young people, as well as destruction of property.

Many substance abusers “grow out of” using to risky levels. Some people who behave like “abusers” are probably addicted. People who are addicted will use more and more often over time, while others in their peer group use less and less often.


Chemical Dependence or Addiction

Chemical Dependence or addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. Addiction has nothing to do with a person’s morals, education, social class or ethnicity. It is a primarily genetic illness that runs in families. Doctors and other professionals use this definition: Addiction is characterized by the repetitive, intermittent, loss of control over the use of a mood altering drug that causes problems in a person’s life. Addiction is not defined by how much or how often people use – it is defined by what happens when they use.

substance abuse education

People who are addicted will experience problems in these areas:

  • self-respect
  • close love relationships
  • social relationships
  • financial problems
  • legal problems
  • work problems
  • medical or psychiatric problems.

Addiction also costs our society money: The economic costs of addiction are estimated at 80-110 billion dollars per year.

What causes drug addiction?

People use drugs for many reasons, such as:

  • curiosity or experimentation
  • desire to be part of a group
  • a sense of relaxation and pleasurable euphoria
  • numbing effect that helps to ease physical or emotional pain.

It is not likely that anyone begins using a drug with the intention of becoming addicted. However, the very qualities that lead to use are in themselves addictive. In addition, addiction results in painful withdrawal symptoms when stopped suddenly, providing another incentive to continue using.

The medical causes of addiction are not fully known. Researchers can only state with assurance that the repeated use of drugs can bring about dramatic changes in both the structure and the function of the brain in destructive ways that can result in compulsive drug use.

The most recent scientific research speculates that some people may be more prone to addiction than others and that there may be genes that predispose certain people to addiction. However, an even more important factor in the cause of addiction may be social circumstances, which include:

  • poor self image
  • emotional distress
  • patterns of use in the addict’s family or subculture
  • pressure from peers
  • advertising or media influence
  • easy access.

Overcoming addiction is not easy!

Obstacles usually include:

  • Resistance from the addict. The lure of immediate relief
    from pain often trumps the desire to conquer addiction.
    Much of this is related to the craving for drugs; see
    How to Handle Cravings for Meth for help.
  • Difficulty assessing the situation. Addicts are frequently clever and deceptive as a result of the overpowering need for more drugs. For immediate help in assessing your situation, fill out the assessment form.
  • A combination of problems contributing to the addiction. Addiction often involves chemical, mental, social, legal, and other problems, making each addict’s situation complex and unique.
  • An overwhelming variety of treatment programs available. Assessing your own situation and matching it with one of thousands of available can be exhausting and frustrating. An experienced professional can successfully lead you through this jungle.
  • An overwhelming amount of data on the effects of drugs and associated treatments. A layperson trying to get educated on the problem his or her loved one is facing may end up bogged down in reading hundreds of research reports and websites that do not help with the immediate problem.

Help is available and should include:

  • Medical diagnosis
  • Proper assessment of addict’s needs
  • Correct Treatment per the assessment
  • Support group and counseling for the addict and family

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What Others Are Saying

Overall this was the best thing I have done for myself and my future. I feel great about everything. My resolve in this matter is very strong. All my needs were met more than I expected and will continue a happy and sober life using the tools that I have gained.
Sierra Higgins
- Patient