Understanding the Difference between Drug Abuse and Addiction
Author: Emile
Drug Abuse Addiction: An officer in the background and a young man out of focus with his head down in the foreground

Many millions of people worldwide suffer from drug addiction and drug abuse, and this abuse destroys the lives of many, many more! This is because each drug addict, behavioural addict or alcoholic in active addiction is on a downward spiral that damages not only their own lives but the lives of their partners, children, extended families, work colleagues and friends.

Society is also forced to carry the cost of drug addiction related to medical complications and deaths, as well as indirectly through the injuries and deaths caused by car accidents, increased crime rates. Drug abuse also leads to a drop-off in productivity and increased absenteeism, which impacts strongly on economic productivity.

Addiction Is A Disease

Addiction is a disease where aberrations in the neurochemistry of the limbic system of the brain result in progressive degrees of behavioural powerlessness to refrain from the drug or behaviour. These neurochemical changes result in a loss of control over their ability to refrain from the mood altering drug or behaviour, together with resultant behavioural changes. Between binges, addicts experience cravings, which can be triggered by a number of internal or external triggers. These lead to denial thoughts that end up rationalizing the next drink/hit/compulsive behaviour. At this point, the neurochemical changes in the limbic system start up again and the ensuing powerlessness leads to more damages. This recursive cycle cripples so very many people and keeps them in this cycle of active addiction.

Types Of Mood Altering Drugs

In this section on drug abuse and addiction, we will look at the various drugs and behaviours that people get addicted to or end up abusing and why this is the case. We will examine both addiction as well as the unique neurochemical and physiological effects of drugs like the following:

  • Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants including amphetamines and methamphetamine derivatives (such as Tik, Ecstacy and MDMA), cocaine, Ritalin and caffeine.
  • CNS depressants including alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GABA), tranquilisers and methaqualone (Mandrax/Quaalude).
  • Opioids (also CNS depressants) including heroin, opium, Oxycodone, morphine, pethidine and codeine (Myprodol etc.).
  • Inhalants such as glue, paint thinners, aerosol sprays, gasoline and laughing gas.
  • Anabolic steroids.
  • Hallucinogens including marijuana (cannabis), LSD, mescaline and magic mushrooms.
  • Cannabinoids (also classed as hallucinogenics) including marijuana and hashish.
  • Tobacco (i.e. nicotine).

You will notice that some of these drugs are legal to buy across the counter, some require a prescription, some are decriminalized and some downright illegal. Unfortunately though some of the most damaging of these drugs are hardly restricted at all!

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is an illness that includes the following:

  • It is a chronic, progressive, incurable and often terminal illness, characterized by neurochemical changes in the limbic system.
  • It is defined by powerlessness (impaired control) while ‘using’ (which is when these neurochemical changes are realized).
  • The person is in denial (at least sometimes) about the loss of control.
  • The powerlessness while using leads to a pattern of spiralling damages that we term unmanageability.
  • Addiction is a primary illness, meaning that it is not merely a short-ish period of abuse in response to a particular environmental stressor (e.g. divorce).
  • It is a ‘no-fault’ illness in that the addict developed it largely through a genetic predisposition, but management of the illness is something that they are entirely responsible for.

Chemical Addictions

Chemical addictions can be broadly placed in the following categories:

  • Alcohol
  • Illicit drugs
  • Prescription drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs

Behavioural Addictions

Some of the behavioural addictions are:

Additional Sources Of Information

Equally, if you are interested in the fundamentals of using Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy to treat addiction (which will be discussed a lot on this site), you might want to consider purchasing a copy of Recovery RSA, which I have written a couple of chapters of.

Goals For Articles On Drug Abuse And Addiction

Throughout these articles, we will examine areas of substance abuse and dependence and various treatment modalities. As a cognitive-behavioural therapist, I believe in incorporating any scientifically valid tools that can help addicts to alter their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and achieve and maintain long-term recovery.

Author: Emile

How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A psychologist with specific training in the treatment in this area can effectively perform a professional assessment and, if required, will recommend the most appropriate treatment. Read more about clinical psychologist Emile du Toit and how he is best suited to assist you in person or virtually online.

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