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What is the Difference Between Substance Misuse vs. Abuse?

When substances become problematic in a person’s life, they often aren’t sure how to define what’s going on. Some people may label themselves as misusing them while others wonder if it’s crossed the line to substance abuse. Both situations are problematic but there are definite differences between substance misuse vs. abuse. 

Substance Misuse vs. Abuse: What Is Substance Misuse?

A report from the National Institutes of Health stated that about 10% of adults in the U.S. experience a drug use disorder during their lifetime. Understanding the difference between substance misuse vs. abuse begins with defining the terms. 

Drug misuse generally applies to prescription drugs. When a person receives a prescription for drugs, it comes with specific instructions regarding things like the amount to be taken, how often to take it, and if it should be taken with food or water. When a person doesn’t follow the instructions, side effects can occur.

Substance misuse refers to any use of a drug that falls outside of its intended purpose. This can include going against medical or legal guidelines for the usage of the medication. Examples of drug misuse can include:

  • Taking the wrong dosage
  • Taking the drug too often 
  • Skipping dosages
  • Increasing the dosage to try to achieve greater results
  • Going off the drug without recommended doctor’s supervision
  • Using the drug for reasons other than those intended
  • Taking a drug that was not prescribed to the person

Substance Misuse vs. Abuse: What Is Substance Abuse?

The line between substance misuse vs. abuse isn’t always clear and the two situations sometimes overlap. For example, someone who takes a prescription drug for reasons other than those prescribed may be misusing it but quickly crosses the line into abusing it. Similarly, using medications meant for severe or chronic pain for minor conditions such as a headache can be classified as misuse but cross the line into abuse. 

One clear sign of substance abuse is when a person uses any kind of drug or alcohol in order to achieve a feeling of inebriation or getting high. Their abuse alters them in emotional, mental, and physical ways. One factor in determining substance misuse vs. abuse has to do with the intent. Typically, someone misusing a drug does so while trying to treat the ailment for which the drug was prescribed. Someone abusing a substance has crossed the line into doing so in order to achieve specific feelings, cover-up certain emotions, or feel checked out of their daily lives.

Another marker of substance abuse has to do with the consequences it has outside of just how a person reacts physically or emotionally. Someone abusing drugs may find it affects their relationships, employment, schooling, and participation in hobbies. They may isolate themselves from others or withdraw from activities they normally enjoy because their substance abuse has become a priority in their lives. 

Sometimes a person who abuses substances finds it impacts their financial lives. They may spend inordinate amounts of money buying their drugs or alcohol, to the point of not paying their regular bills or incurring debt. Substance abuse also can end up unwittingly placing a person into the legal system. Arrests for DUI/DWI, court costs, legal fees, and probation costs can be a direct result of someone who has become lost in the world of substance abuse. 

What to Do for Substance Misuse

When a person realizes that they may be engaging in substance misuse, they should take action immediately. They can revisit the instructions for their prescription drug in order to return to using it in the appropriate dosage and according to all other prescription instructions. If they feel they may need help adjusting their behavior, speaking to a healthcare provider can give them needed guidance. The person can discuss in what ways they are misusing the drug and see if the physician may want to recommend a change in instructions or a different medication.

Ignoring substance misuse because the person believes they only do it occasionally or it’s not that serious can result in abusing substances before they realize it. If they do not know if that line has already been crossed, talking to a medical professional can help them determine what’s going on and how to address it.

What to Do for Substance Abuse

If a person abuses substances, it will take professional treatment to help them stop using the substance. Willpower typically does not result in stopping substance abuse, despite a person’s best intentions or the advice of loved ones to “just stop”. A person addicted to drugs or alcohol usually needs to begin treatment with a detoxification program. 

After detox, people can choose from a residential program, a sober living house, or outpatient programs. Treatment typically comes in a multi-pronged approach, including individual therapy, group therapy, holistic therapy, and other types of care. 

Many drug abuse treatment programs also treat co-occurring mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, panic disorders, bipolar disorder, and depression. Receiving treatment for both conditions simultaneously helps a person reduce and control their mental health symptoms at the same time they learn to embrace recovery from addiction.

Substance Abuse Treatment in Los Angeles

If you are a young adult struggling with substance abuse or you know someone who is, we know how to help. Riviera Recovery of Los Angeles provides two gender-specific sober living houses that enable a young person in recovery to learn to live a life of sobriety before returning home. We provide options for multiple types of therapy and assistance in managing any ongoing mental health issues. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you.

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