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Drug Abuse Vs Drug Dependence

drug abuse drug dependence

Drug use is an incredibly slippery slope. People often start using substances with the goal of fitting in, feeling better, or boosting their confidence. During the experimental phases of drug use, there’s always a strong sense of being totally in control. Stopping or limiting use feels like an easy decision, and early on, the benefits of indulging often appear to outweigh the risks.

Consequences of Drug Abuse

However, as substance use becomes increasingly regular, most users face considerable consequences for their actions. They might experience significant changes in their oral or respiratory health, diminished appearances, and a waning ability to stay on top of personal responsibilities. Constantly being high makes it hard to focus on essential, everyday tasks.

Whether late for work, unable to focus on the job, or arrested on DUI charges, someone who’s abusing drugs can continue on the same destructive path for quite some time, even though drug use is damaging their personal relationships, finances, and career.

Although drug abuse is difficult to live with and difficult to watch, this stage of addiction offers a slim window of opportunity for people to quit. At this phase, drug users still have the ability to make the conscious decision to change their lives for the better. Sadly, they are also poised to experience significant changes within their brain chemistry that will ultimately take this choice away. Each instance of use could be a person’s last opportunity to avoid this powerful and often lasting physiological damage.

Drug Dependence

With drug dependence, users discover that their brains and their bodies are no longer capable of functioning without their substance of choice. Once dependent, a person cannot stop using without experiencing painful and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. General mood balance becomes impossible to achieve without further substance use. More importantly, although drug users start taking substances to feel better, once they become dependent, they feel far worse during periods of abstinence than they did before their initial exposure to drugs.

The Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Dependence

If you or someone you love is abusing drugs, it may be difficult to distinguish between abuse and dependence. Substance abuse is definitely detrimental to a person’s life, but abuse doesn’t indicate full-blown addiction.

With substance abuse, abstaining and going through the detox process is both physically and emotionally unpleasant. With dependence, changes within the central nervous system (CNS) and within overall brain chemistry can lead to withdrawal symptoms that affect basic, essential forms of physiological functioning. For instance, a dependent person who’s detoxing from drugs without medical support may experience:

  • Shallow or difficult breathing
  • Chest pains and heart palpitations
  • Severe digestive upset, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Restlessness, fatigue, insomnia, and mood swings
  • Rapid fluctuations in body temperature
  • Dramatic changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels

A drug abuser who’s detoxing will invariably experience strong cravings for drugs, emotional confusion, self-doubt, and many other negative developments. However, someone who has become dependent can actually feel as though their entire body is shutting down.

Dependence is a direct result of the body’s efforts to protect itself from the effects of long-term drug use. Although each substance can affect the brain and body differently, there is a general path describing the road to addiction for nearly all substance types. Initially, using drugs or alcohol causes the brain to release a flood of “feel-good” chemicals. These chemicals create a sense of euphoria, happiness, and all-around comfort.

“Feel-good” chemicals like dopamine are naturally produced by the body. Natural dopamine production and release can be triggered by physical intimacy, certain foods, physical exercise, and other positive actions. Whenever the release of this chemical is triggered, the hippocampus records the event, and the resulting memory encourages people to return to the very behaviors that stimulated dopamine release. For instance, if indulging in a piece of chocolate cake makes you feel good, you’ll probably crave a slice of cake whenever you feel down.

Drug use turns into abuse when floods of “feel-good” chemicals are constantly associated with getting high rather than other events. People who use drugs often feel more inclined to do so when they feel stressed, lonely, fatigued, or low in self-esteem. Their brains come to associate the release of dopamine with the act of using drugs. More importantly, normal dopamine production and release decline.

As a result, many people find that the only time they’re able to feel calm, euphoric, or confident is when they’re actively using drugs. Moreover, as the body and brain gradually develop tolerance to the substance being used, more is required for triggering the same dopamine response. This holds true for nearly all “feel-good” chemicals that the brain produces.

Stopping drug use outright after dependence has been reached can have a devastating impact on the body. This far exceeds feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, or depression. This is because “feel-good” chemicals or neurotransmitters don’t just exist to improve a person’s mood. These chemicals control:

  • General movement
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Attention functions
  • Memory formation
  • Other important functions

Whenever abstinence is prolonged, a dependent or addicted person can experience tremendous, whole-body distress. For some people, withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that the body develops tremors or suffers seizures and hallucinations.

For these and other reasons, chemical dependence or drug addiction is classified as a disease. Once people have moved beyond abuse and have become chemically reliant upon substances, significant changes within their brain chemistry, brain functions, and even their brain sizes make it virtually impossible to quit without assistance.

If you’ve been abusing drugs and have recently discovered that you no longer have the power to quit, you’re not alone. The good news is that we can help you find your way back to good health.

With our medically assisted detox services, it’s possible to minimize and even prevent many of the painful withdrawal symptoms that dependent individuals experience. Best of all, our services for addiction treatment can help you learn more about this disease, its causes, and the best strategies for managing it long-term. Call us today at 833-991-2955 to get started on the path to recovery.