What is the definition of substance abuse?

whiskey drinking alcohol

Addiction, as defined, is continuing the use of a substance or engaging in a behavior that is proving to be physically and psychologically harmful. It begins when an intense sense of euphoria brings immense pleasure to the mind and body. 

Often having that experience once isn’t sufficient, causing a person to try more to see if the same outcome is possible. When the result repeats, regardless of the circumstances, habits begin to form, ultimately leading to an addiction that’s challenging to stop.

That isn’t to say that everyone who engages in substances or behaviors will become addicted. Some can have the experience and never attempt it again. 

But those who do need to understand, according to the “American Society of Addiction Medicine,” (quote), “these are treatable conditions involving complex interactions among brain circuits and involving genetics, the environment, and a person’s individual life experiences.” (end quote)

While the initial usage is voluntary, the addiction can take the lead, with self-control decreasing over time.

How To Differentiate Between Addiction And Misuse

Addiction to a substance is not the same thing as misusing something. When misuse is the issue involving using a product against the dosing guidelines or when it deems inappropriate or in a wrong setting, that doesn’t indicate habitual use as with an addiction involving a specific activity or product.

Someone can misuse marijuana on an evening with friends at a party with resultant euphoric pleasure albeit harmful adverse effects associated with overindulging in the drug. 

That doesn’t qualify the person as addicted to marijuana until they choose to repeat the behavior more than once, seek out the drug obsessively, and risk continued use despite obvious harmful repercussions. 

Misuse and addiction can become clouded in many situations, whether it be a drug, alcohol, or one of many behavioral situations like:

  • Gaming
  • Sex
  • Gambling (real-time and online)
  • Internet use
  • Cell phone
  • Food

Many people are guilty of misusing these behaviors, but when one or more becomes harmful physically or psychologically, or perhaps both, it develops into a habit that needs assistance. 

Withdrawing Upon Realization Of A Problem

Something to be careful of when you realize that you’ve become addicted to something: let’s use marijuana again, maybe alcohol, even nicotine; stopping these and other harmful products will bring undesirable symptoms, potentially dangerous, depending on your method for making the break.

For those who have reached the point of physical dependence, an abrupt stop or “cold turkey,” especially when it comes to alcohol abuse, can result in severe symptoms and can be fatal based on the level of dependence.

When you find yourself in this situation, it’s not something to handle alone. We all need support with difficult moments we face, and working through any sort of drug, alcohol, or behavioral dependence is primary for having a solid support system lined up.

You can reach out to reputable counselors and other professionals if you find yourself without healthy support. Recovery programs like these can also set you up with support groups of other people in the same situation you find yourself in. There’s no reason to put yourself in danger by doing this alone.

How Do You Know It’s Time To Call The Doctor

Any individual engaging in intoxicating or illicit products, even merely in a social aspect, needs to address the issue with their primary care physician so that the doctor can attempt to monitor for indications of an addiction developing. 

Most people won’t abide by consulting with a medical provider if they’re indulging in drugs or alcohol or abusing prescriptions despite how it adversely affects their overall well-being. 

As a matter of fact, many individuals keep these vices secret from everyone close to them, especially if they’re reaching a chronic nature. Some symptoms that you might be addicted to and that family and friends can pay attention to when dependence has developed:

  • Despite having repercussions with personal relationships and on the work front, there is no capacity to stop using even with health becoming a deterrent.
  • When family and close friends begin to notice a problem, they’re met with aggression, damaging relationships, and potential support systems.
  • Productivity/performance begins to decline whether in school or on the job.
  • There is a noticeable sluggishness and decreasing ability to achieve activities of daily living, weight begins to shift, and hygiene is sorely neglected.

With any of these developing symptoms, it’s time to reach out for medical support. A primary care physician can guide you to an adequate recovery program made specifically for your needs. 

Programs are exceptionally personalized for the benefit of the individual. In many situations, the family and even the community are brought together to offer their support. There have been many advances in the management and resolution of addiction with some treatment methods including:

  • Counseling and behavioral therapy
  • Psychology-related therapies for issues like depression
  • Treatments that are medication-based
  • Withdrawal treatment using medical devices

There is also ongoing treatment to help reduce the chances for relapse in many situations, so no one has to walk away feeling as though they’re on their own when it’s all said and done. 

It’s important to understand, treatment for an addiction can take considerable time and can become complex. Dependence on anything is a chronic issue with varied physical and psychological consequences. If there’s more than one dependence, each could need to be individually addressed as they might require a unique regimen.

Final Thought

Someone who develops an addiction cannot merely stop because someone tells them to. The individual has developed an inability to stop despite its repercussions on their life, relationships, mind, and body. 
It’s a severe, chronic dependence that will require medical assistance and long-term specialized treatment to work through. What this person needs from close friends and family is for them not to walk away but pull closer and offer a solid support system as their loved one ventures into the most challenging period of their life.

Article edited and fact checked by our editorial team