Drug addiction vs. substance abuse
Substance abuse is a broad term that includes drug abuse. Abuse of any substance can cause chemical changes in the brain that can lead to addiction.

Often, the terms drug abuse and substance abuse are used interchangeably. However, they do slightly differ in the following ways.

Substance abuse is a broad term that refers to the use of any substance—illegal drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or alcohol—in excessive amounts. Many of these addictive substances are fine in small amounts if they are used for preventing or treating health issues. Though, problems can occur when they are misused.

Drug abuse refers to the use of drugs only (not alcohol)—illegal drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs—in excessive amounts. However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and World Health Organization (WHO) no longer use the term “drug abuse” as a medical diagnosis.

If the problem of substance abuse is not tackled early, it can lead to substance use disorder, which is a mental disorder characterized by an inability to control the urge to use addictive substances, leading to problems at school, work and home.

What are the types of substance abuse?

Alcohol is still the most common form of substance abuse in the United States due to its widespread legal and social approval.

Other types of substance abuse may include:

  • Prescription medication or drug abuse includes:
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) drug abuse includes:
    • Cough medicines (such as dextromethorphan)
    • Cold medicines (such as pseudoephedrine)
    • Motion sickness pills (such as dimenhydrinate)
  • Illegal drug abuse (also called illicit and recreational drugs) includes:
  • Club drug abuse includes:
    • Ecstasy (also called MDMA; E, X, E pills; adam and STP)
    • Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB; also called liquid XTC, G and blue nitro)
    • Rohypnol (also called roofies and roche)
    • Ketamine (also called special K and K)
    • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD; popular names include acid and microdot)
    • Phencyclidine (PCP; popularly referred to as angel dust, lovie, love boat and hog)

SLIDESHOW

Prescription Drug Abuse: Addiction, Health Risks, and Treatments See Slideshow

What are the signs of substance abuse?

You do not get addicted to alcohol or any drug from one use. The effect builds gradually. Initially, you feel that you can control your urge towards substance use. Over time, you may not be able to do so, and you begin to need more of the substance to create the same effect or “high.”

These are the common signs that point towards substance abuse affecting your life:

  • Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Sleeping or waking up at odd hours
  • Losing interest in things that you used to enjoy earlier
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unusual laziness (you stop taking care of yourself)
  • Avoiding meeting with friends and other social interactions
  • Spending more time alone than usual
  • Unusual decrease or increase in appetite
  • Decreased performance at work
  • Having problems with family
  • Frequent, sudden shifts in mood
  • Strong urge to use the substance

If you think you or someone close to you is experiencing the aforementioned problems, do not hesitate to get help. Visit a doctor, therapist or deaddiction center to find out the severity of the substance abuse and to get any treatment or therapy that can help you get out of it.

Can substance abuse be cured or prevented?

Generally, there is no cure for substance abuse and addiction. Recovering addicts tend to get the urge to relapse for the rest of their lives. However, some treatments and strategies can successfully help manage the condition.

Research conducted over the years has provided the medical fraternity with promising treatments for substance abuse. According to studies, a combination of medications along with behavioral therapy has the highest chance of working for most people. A doctor along with a therapist designs a customized plan for you based on your co-occurring medical, mental and social problems to ensure recovery.

Drug abuse and addiction can be prevented. Prevention programs that involve families, schools, communities and the media are effective in preventing or reducing drug use, abuse and addiction.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/4/2021
References
NCI Dictionaries: Dictionary of Cancer Terms. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/substance-abuse

NCI Dictionaries: Dictionary of Cancer Terms. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/drug-abuse

Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report: Overview. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview

Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery