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Substance Abuse Versus Addiction

Substance abuse and substance addiction may seem like interchangeable terms. However, they refer to two different health conditions. Both of them have adverse effects on individuals’ lives and health. Nevertheless, substance abuse and substance addiction differ in their underlying mechanisms and, thus, require unalike interventions. The understanding of differences between the two can allow developing more effective and relevant prevention and treatment strategies.

The major dissimilarity between substance abuse and addiction is in the intensity of the impact. Zou et al. (2017) define addiction as “a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by a recurring desire to continue taking the drug despite harmful consequences” (p. 21). It means that addiction is a phenomenon that takes place at the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral levels. The main problem is that the dependence-related “recurring desire” is hard or almost impossible to control. An affected person neither can resist it nor easily start to adhere to healthier behavioral patterns.

In contrast, substance abusers usually have greater control over the situation. Substance abuse refers to “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs” (World Health Organization, 2019, para. 1). Abuse and misuse of drugs can be occasional and serve distinct purposes, including recreation and stress coping. It has many negative effects on one’s health that may vary depending on the type of substance one uses. Moreover, when repeated, substance abuse increases the risk of dependence.

Overall, substance addiction affects the life of an addicted person and his/her close ones substantially. At the same time, the impacts of substance abuse are less major even though can be severe. According to Bradford Health Services (2018), simple educational interventions can be utilized to help abusers quit their detrimental habits. However, addicts usually require focused medical attention, detoxication, and counseling (Bradford Health Services, 2018). Noteworthily, in the case of substance addiction, the treatment is usually taking significant time and the risk of relapse is very high.

As it was demonstrated in the essay, substance abuse, and substance addiction are two different conditions. Nevertheless, the connections between them are clear. When abuse of psychoactive substances is regularly repeated, dependence syndrome develops a person begins to crave the drug or alcohol more. As a result, addiction develops and it becomes hard to beat. Therefore, it is essential to prevent addiction by educating individuals and communities on the harms of substance abuse.


Bradford Health Services. (2018). Substance abuse vs addiction? Web.

World Health Organization. (2019). Substance abuse. Web.

Zou, Z., Wang, H., Uquillas, F. D., Wang, X., Ding, J., & Chen, H. (2017). Definition of substance and non-substance addiction. In X. Zhang, J. Shi & R. Tao (Eds.), Substance and non-substance addiction (pp. 21-41). Basel, Switzerland: Springer Nature.

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