smoke coming out of person's mouth

Substance addiction works similar to a disease that affects your brain, body, and behavior. When you struggle with an addiction, you cannot resist the urge to use the substance, no matter how it harms your health or impacts your relationship with your family and friends.

Addictions aren’t only about abuse of illegal drugs or alcohol; they can also be about nicotine, pain killers, or other legal substances that harm you when used in large amounts.

At first, you were curious to see what the drug’s effect is, or you used it to relieve a condition you were battling. You thought you could control the frequency of the quantity you take. But over time, the drug takes control over your decisions and changes the way your body functions. The drug’s physical effects can last in your body for a long time and can lead you to a self-damaging behavior. But how do you know if you’re struggling with addiction or abuse? And if there a difference between the two?

Abuse vs. addiction

You abuse legal or illegal drugs when you use them in ways you shouldn’t. You take more than the regular dose of pills your doctor prescribed for your condition. You use them to manage stress or mental illness, avoid reality because it triggers negative emotions, or feel good. You abuse drugs when you can change or stop your unhealthy habits without experiencing side effects.

You are addicted to a drug when you cannot stop using it even if it puts your health in danger. You engage in this harmful activity even if it triggers emotional, medical, and financial problems for you and your family. You always feel the urge to use the drug, even if you are aware it harms you, and you want to quit. Getting better from addiction or abuse takes time. There is no simple treatment scheme you follow and stop using drugs. You need counseling or medicine to support your efforts. Click here for more information.

Both affect your brain

Your brain is built to make you want to repeat an action if it makes you feel good, so when you use drugs to alleviate pain or negative emotions, it motivates you to use them again and again.

Addictive substances target the reward system in your brain, so you find challenging to stop using them. Most drugs, legal or illegal, flood your brain with dopamine that causes intense pleasure, so you crave for them.

But in time, your brain gets used to the level of dopamine the substances produce, so you need to take more to feel good again. Also, you no longer find pleasure in the things you once liked, like spending time with your family, hanging out with your friends, eating ice cream, or practicing sports.

Prolonged use of substances changes your brain chemistry and damages your nervous system and circuits, so you deal with poor decision making, impaired memory, inability to learn, and lack of judgment. Your brain tells you to seek refuge in more drugs and leads you to a path beyond your control to compensate for these deficiencies. So, it’s best to seek professional help to fight substance abuse or addiction before they disrupt your life.