There are differences between recreational drug use, drug misuse, and drug addiction and it’s important to recognize the factors that set them apart. Recreational drug use and frequent drug misuse can all potentially lead to a drug addiction, but it can be hard to pinpoint whether or not you have a legitimate drug addiction. Addiction is a disease, and it is comprised of specific behavioral patterns that repeat themselves in a cycle that revolves around the misuse of drugs. Take notice of specific signs that may describe your behavior to determine whether or not you need to take steps towards treating a drug addiction.
Recreational Drug Use vs Drug Misuse vs Drug Addiction
There is a small percentage of people who recreationally use street drugs or misuse prescription medication on occasion. While there may be no apparent danger with this kind of use, it’s still considered illegal behavior and could cause problems with the law. Those who are infrequent users using street drugs are also in danger of not knowing what they are ingesting due to inexperience with unlabeled drugs. This highly increases the risk of accidental overdose if mixed with other substances like alcohol. If this kind of use is infrequent, it is not an addiction but it is still dangerous.
The line between drug misuse (also called drug abuse) and drug addiction is very fine and is often blurred. Those who misuse drugs do so more frequently than people who use them recreationally, but are not chemically dependent on the drug. This doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing negative impacts on their mental and physical health, however. Those who are misusing drugs are walking a tightrope and a high percentage of those people will eventually become addicted to their drugs of choice. In fact, those who walk this fine line often experience overdose because of frequent attempts at stopping “cold turkey” and relapsing with too large of a dose.
Having a chemical dependency on a drug is at the peak of addiction. If you cannot get through one day without using your drug one or more times to feel “normal” and chase off the feeling of withdrawal, you are chemically and physically dependent on drugs. The deepest issue with this level of addiction is that you can’t just stop. You need more of the drug to feel normal. At advanced levels, you are not even experiencing highs anymore. Your sole reason for ingesting more of the drug is to keep the horrible pains and experience of withdrawals at bay. Feeling “dope sick” can cause extreme nausea, vomiting, muscle and bone pain, lethargy and long stretches of sleeplessness. Because the brain has gotten used to a certain level of chemicals in the body, it has become the status quo for its daily normal functions.
If you are no longer experiencing highs at large doses and are threatened with withdrawal daily, it’s time to take drastic measures to medically help your body with a chemical addiction through treatment. Those who are addicted to drugs will often not be able to function normally unless they are on them. They will continue to use these drugs despite even the most severe consequences. Reckless and criminal behavior are not uncommon and are often the final steps before someone who is addicted ends up in prison or deceased.
The physical effect drugs have on the body are the most obvious on the inside and out. Dose-dependent drugs like heroin and other opioids require gradually increased quantities to achieve the desired high. This kind of misuse can ravage the body in various ways. People who misuse opioids are required to continue “chasing their high” while taking larger and larger amounts at a time. This poses a huge risk for overdose. After long-term misuse of opioids, you may find subtle but noticeable changes in your appearance like failing internal health, pale skin and sunken in eyes, injection site rashes and scabs, rapid weight change, glazed over eyes, hair loss, and injuries sustained while intoxicated.
Drug misuse can affect brain chemistry and alter the way you think and act, sometimes consciously but other times subconsciously. Other behavioral patterns are not as subtle and can be the first way that friends and loved ones start noticing that you may be in trouble. If you find yourself often acting irritable or experience aggressive outbursts, it could be a sign of your body reacting to acute withdrawal. With drugs like heroin or opioids, withdrawal can be painful and cause you to act out until you are able to re-dose to stave these feelings away. This kind of behavior can also alter your personality over time. Those who misuse drugs often find themselves lethargic and depressed. While their body is busy fighting the toxins introduced into the bloodstream, the mind is also fighting chemical imbalances caused the opioids affecting receptors that control mood and stability. Other telltale signs of addiction are a sudden shift in social circles, struggling finances, and frequent criminal activity.
There is Hope
If you recognize that your behaviors align with drugs misuse or addiction and you want to take the next steps toward getting better, there are many options for you that you can consider. Medication-assisted treatment can help you to avoid the pains of withdrawal with specifically dosed medications like buprenorphine or methadone. When properly administered by a medical professional, they can be very helpful in lessening the withdrawals of coming off a chemical dependency to drugs. Along with medication, cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help with the psychological and emotional effects drugs have caused in your life. Many facilities offer various kinds of counseling that can help put you on a road to long-lasting recovery.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007, January). Bringing the Power of Science to Bear on Drug Abuse and Addiction: Drugs Have Long-term Consequences.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.