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The Addiction Definition: Why It's Not the Same as Substance Abuse

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When discussing drug use with friends and family members, we frequently don’t use the right terms. For example, did you know that the addiction definition differs significantly from a substance abuse problem? Words matter. Here’s what you need to know the next time you’re talking about the issue.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Alcohol, opioid painkillers, legal amphetamine stimulants, and central nervous system depressants are all drugs with addiction potential. Dependence doesn’t typically happen instantaneously.

Instead, various degrees of substance abuse occur before someone would fit the addiction definition.

Examples include binge-drinking alcohol, using off-label medication, or asking doctors to achieve that “high.”

In these situations, people still have a choice whether they want to participate in this activity. For instance, many people binge drink on weekends while remaining sober during the week.

Although these people abuse alcohol, they don’t suffer from an addiction—yet.

An Accurate Understanding of the Addiction Definition

different-forms-of-addictionIn contrast to a substance abuse problem, real addiction can be debilitating.

People in this situation consider a high to be a reward that they want to relive repeatedly. As the body builds a higher tolerance to their substance of choice, chasing the high becomes more difficult. Pursuing larger and more frequent doses leads to lost relationships and financial disaster.

In contrast to a substance abuse problem, real addiction can be debilitating.

Some scientists consider addiction a chronic disease without a cure. Even though their health and dignity suffer, they can’t quit. That said, there’s treatment to help individuals cope with their condition. A compassionate, professional rehabilitation center can help people change, allowing them to choose sobriety on a daily basis.

High-quality residential rehab centers use a variety of programs to help participants in these situations. Examples include:

  • A dual diagnosis assessment to determine whether a mental disorder is as a contributing factor to an addiction (in our experience, it's very often the case that a dual diagnosis exists)
  • Counseling strategies that focus on underlying core issues such as low self-esteem that support addictive tendencies
  • Goal-setting that includes dealing with past traumatic experiences to prevent future relapses
  • Focus on forming social connections and establishing a support network to counteract previous isolation
  • Training in self-counseling to create a strong first line of defense when triggers threaten an abstinent lifestyle
  • Understanding what to do when a relapse (or slip) happens.

Getting and Staying Sober Takes Work

There’s no shortcut to getting sober. Medical detox may be the first step to rid the body of the chemicals, but rehab must follow right away. Failure to do so quickly leads to an almost immediate relapse. Dealing with underlying core issues is the best way to keep you from returning to substance abuse and subsequent addiction.

If you know that you’re dealing with a dangerous addiction rather than a substance abuse problem, it’s time to get help. Download our free eBook below or call The Clearing today at 425-275-8600 to overcome your addiction.

Download E-Book Healing Core Issues


Gregg Makuch

This post was written by Gregg Makuch

Gregg helps get the word out about The Clearing. When he’s not riding his bike and enjoying the beauty of the San Juan Islands, Gregg loves to cook and spend time with his family.

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