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Comparing the Differences Between Substance Abuse vs. Addiction

The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

Many people use the terms substance abuse and addiction interchangeably, but there are considerable differences between the two.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) separates individuals into three categories when describing their condition. As with many medical conditions, a proper diagnosis of addiction or substance abuse is the first step in receiving proper care at a Florida treatment center. Banyan Stuart is taking a look at the distinctions between substance abuse vs. addiction and what this could mean for you or your loved one who may be struggling.

Defining Substance Abuse and Addiction

The DSM wraps individuals into one of three categories. These categories are no substance use disorder, abuse only, or dependence.1 The criterion for each diagnosis varies, but if an individual meets the criteria for two, they will only be diagnosed with one. For example, if a person meets the criteria for both abuse and dependence, they will be diagnosed with dependence. How does an individual receive a diagnosis? There are many factors that feed into a diagnosis, including behaviors, psychological symptoms, and even genetic factors.

Medical professionals tend to diagnose addiction as the third category in the DSM, which is dependence. For the average individual, substance dependence and addiction are synonyms. There has also been a push in the medical community to begin using the word addiction over-dependence.2 Many medical professionals believe that dependence implies only physical dependency, while addiction better encapsulates the varied factors and forces of active addiction.

What Are Some Examples of Substance Abuse?

People may abuse a variety of substances, and each one carries a particular set of potential dangers. One such example is alcohol abuse, which is described as the frequent and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Chronic alcohol abuse can harm the liver and lead to cardiovascular issues as well as cognitive decline. One typical kind of substance addiction is the misuse of prescription medications, such as opioids, sedatives, and stimulants. Using these medicines raises the risk of addiction, overdose, and other health problems when not under proper medical supervision.

Examples of substance abuse can also include:

  • Illicit opioids: This category includes potent drugs that are frequently obtained illegally, such as heroin or fentanyl. Intense euphoria caused by illicit opioids may be followed by extreme sedation and respiratory depression. Many users may find themselves “nodding off.” This refers to the semi-conscious state of drowsiness and intermittent lapses into sleep that individuals may experience as a side effect of opioid use.
  • Tobacco: Using tobacco products to smoke or chew can cause nicotine addiction, respiratory problems, and a number of cancers. In recent years, many communities have seen an uptick in vaping amongst various demographics, including teenagers.
  • Prescription painkillers: Opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone can be abused for their euphoric effects, which can cause addiction and respiratory issues.
  • Stimulants: Drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, such as cocaine and amphetamines like methamphetamine, can increase energy but also increase the risk of cardiac issues, paranoia, and addiction.
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers: When benzodiazepines are misused, it can lead to disorientation, sleepiness, and potentially harmful interactions with other drugs. Benzo abuse can also induce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in users.
  • Hallucinogens: Drugs like MDMA (ecstasy) and LSD have the potential to alter perception and have unpredicted impacts on mental health.
  • Inhalants: The brain, lungs, and other organs can be harmed by sniffing or breathing common home chemicals or volatile compounds. Inhalant abuse is especially dangerous because many of the substances can be easily procured.

It's important to realize that everyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, can be impacted by substance abuse. Banyan Treatment Centers works to stay on top of drug news and trends in order to stay informed and help us do the same for our patients. It is crucial to identify the warning symptoms of substance abuse and get help as soon as possible to avoid serious health and social repercussions. It is also important to understand the differences in terminology used to describe a person's drug abuse. This brings us to the comparison of substance abuse vs. addiction.

The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

While addiction and dependency are typically regarded as one and the same, addiction and substance abuse are very different. Both addiction and substance abuse involve the abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other substances. But that seems to be the only parallel. With substance abuse, individuals are not physically, emotionally, or mentally bound to the substances they’re abusing. While substance abuse can still be dangerous, it is not an all-consuming need or compulsion.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a more intense and often challenging diagnosis requiring specialized care at our Stuart, Florida, Banyan Treatment Center. Addiction is not one single feature but rather a combination of several factors. The factors that define addiction include engagement in a dangerous behavior for specific results, loss of control, preoccupation with a behavior, temporary relief, and suffering of negative consequences due to the behavior.3

Our Stuart rehab provides diagnosis, medical detox, and personalized Florida addiction treatment. Contact our office today to get started at 888-280-4763.


  1. NCBI - What Is Addiction?
  2. NCBI - What's in a word? Addiction versus dependence in DSM-V
  3. NCBI - Considering the Definition of Addiction

Related Reading

Common Questions About Addiction

Childhood Trauma and Addiction


Our facility provides diagnosis, detox, and personalized addiction treatment in Stuart. Contact our office today to get started at 888-280-4763.

Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.