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What Is the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Addiction?

By: Thom Gorman 

In my days as a motorcyclist I was constantly in the company of gang members or independents whose income and lives revolved around the drug trade. They transported drugs, they sold drugs and they used drugs and some practiced drug abuse. Often they used different drugs at the same time and everybody used alcohol.

I worked in several different motorcycle shops, and in those days the people I worked with were most often “speed freaks” (amphetamines abusers), who would party or work for days at a time. They lived as if they were afraid that they might miss something.  Nearly everyone smoked grass, the guys with a little more money and a place of their own, did hash and carried “bong tea” in wineskins draped across their bike’s front forks. The counterculture members of the bike world indulged in almost everything illicit and drug abuse was rampant. No one I knew did PCP on purpose. Some low grade grass dusted with PCP (Angel Dust) was being sold, but PCP was a known destroyer of brains and no one wanted that. You had to be very, very careful.

Like any other groups we had drug users, drug abusers and those with a drug addiction. Most of us avoided drug addiction, used our drug of choice often and even regularly abused it. I got drunk, which is clearly abuse, as was getting stoned.  If you regularly watch COPS or any similar shows you will frequently see alcohol and drug abusers drunk or stoned out of their minds. It isn’t a pretty sight.  An abuser will often have difficulties at home or work, regularly facing problems associated with their drug abuse and act out by pulling stupid or dangerous stunts. Drug abusers often face jail time because of these activities, but generally won’t stop their abuse. Drug addiction is different because the addict faces serious mental or physical withdrawal symptoms if they stop. They feed their drug addiction larger and larger doses with diminishing pleasurable returns and are unable to stop on their own. This is true drug addiction. All choice has been taken away.

Tolerance is the highly variable personal reaction to drugs and may change over time. Generally speaking the user becomes more tolerant of their drug of choice and more is required to regain the pleasurable effect. When they keep trying for that effect by more frequent drug abuse, they open the door to drug addiction where their mind or body craves the drug and won’t allow them to stop. If you see the signs of drug abuse or drug addiction in loved ones or friends your best next move is to suggest professional help. Don’t try this at home.