drug abuse vs drug addictionMillions of people in the United States live with a substance use disorder (SUD), including addiction and substance abuse. The effects of these conditions can be devastating for your physical health, social and emotional well-being, and safety.

Many people use the terms “drug abuse” and “drug addiction” interchangeably. But do they mean the same thing? And are there differences in how these conditions are treated?

We’ve put together a guide to help you determine the difference between drug abuse vs. drug addiction. If you or someone you love require substance abuse treatment or support during recovery, reach out to the Woburn Addiction Treatment staff today.

Is There a Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction?

Many people experiment with drugs and alcohol or use them regularly at some point during their lifetime. But some people have prolonged periods of drug abuse that may develop into dependence or addiction. It’s important to understand the dangers of both drug abuse and addiction and know the differences between these conditions.

Drug abuse generally means using drugs excessively. People may use drugs recreationally for their desirable effects or to self-medicate physical or emotional pain.

Drug addiction occurs when a person’s body cannot function without the drugs. If someone stops taking the drugs, they may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Often, drug withdrawal symptoms are so uncomfortable that people relapse early in the detox process. Sometimes, withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening.

No one chooses to live with addiction. People with drug addiction do not have control over their substance use and require immediate, comprehensive treatment.

Signs of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse can change the way a person thinks and behaves. They may prioritize drug use over other essential parts of their lives, including friends, work, family, and their health.

Other signs of drug abuse include:

  • Changes in sleep, appetite, mood, or appearance
  • New financial or legal problems
  • Isolating
  • Secretive behavior
  • Dishonesty
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, and recovering from using drugs
  • Failing to keep up at work, school, or at home
  • Needing to use more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they don’t use the drug

People with substance abuse may begin to lose control over their drug abuse and begin to use drugs more frequently or in greater amounts. Without intervention, some will develop a life-threatening drug addiction.

Signs of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction occurs when a person becomes physically or psychologically dependent on a drug. When someone has an addiction to drugs, they can no longer control their substance use. Their body relies on the presence of drugs, and stopping cold turkey can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening complications.

More than 21 million Americans struggle with drug addiction.

Addiction is characterized by four Cs:


People are unable to choose to stop using drugs. They do not have control over their substance abuse because their body is dependent on drugs. They experience painful physical and psychological symptoms if they stop or reduce their drug use.


People with drug addiction experience intense cravings that make it feel nearly impossible to stop using drugs. If they do not take drugs, people with drug addiction have frequent cravings that can linger for days, weeks, or months.


People with drug addiction will continue to use drugs, even when faced with severe, even life-threatening consequences. They will continue to use drugs even when faced with losing jobs and essential relationships, legal and financial trouble, and devastating harm to their mental and physical health and safety.


Addiction drives people’s behaviors. People living with drug addiction may act impulsively or make decisions that seem out of character before beginning to use drugs.

No one chooses to develop an addiction. Compassionate treatment can help people address addiction’s physical, emotional, behavioral, and environmental aspects so they can live healthy, fulfilling lives.

What Happens in Treatment for Drug Abuse?

Comprehensive addiction treatment programs provide support, supervision, and education for people living with drug abuse. Drug abuse treatment programs use a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies to identify and address the root causes of a person’s addiction. These include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Education
  • Medications
  • Mental health care
  • Holistic therapies like nutrition counseling, yoga, art, and music therapy, and massage

Some may wonder if there is a difference between treatment for drug abuse vs. drug addiction. Generally, programs treating drug abuse and drug addiction are similar, but those with a physical dependence on drugs may require medically-supervised detox before beginning a treatment program.

Addiction is never truly cured. People with drug abuse or addiction must continue to stay active and engaged in recovery for the rest of their lives. An aftercare plan that includes therapy and group support can help people stay on track with their new, sober lifestyle.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you love need help with drug abuse or addiction, reach out to the caring Woburn Addiction Treatment specialists today.

Call us or complete the form below for help.

    Ready to
    Make a Change?

    We know that overcoming addiction is not easy and requires courage to ask for help. At Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, our team of professionals has decades of combined experience in helping men, women, and families overcome substance abuse.