What is drug abuse and substance abuse?
Drug abuse, also known as substance abuse, involves the repeated and excessive use of a drug to produce pleasure or escape reality—despite its destructive effects. The substances abused can be illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, or legal substances used improperly, such as prescription drugs and inhalants like nail polish or gasoline. But whatever the drug of choice, substance abuse can be identified by the maladaptive way in which it takes over the user's life, disrupting his or her relationships, daily functioning, and peace of mind.
For those in the grips of drug abuse and addiction, their drug controls them, not the other way around. As the director of The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “uncontrollable, compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences” is the essence of drug addiction. Drug addiction can be physical, psychological, or both. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration refers to psychological dependence as “the subjective feeling that the user needs the drug to maintain a feeling of well-being." Using a drug to numb unpleasant feelings, to relax, or to satisfy cravings are examples of psychological addiction. On the other hand, physical dependence refers to the physiological effects of drug use. Physical addiction is characterized by tolerance—the need for increasingly larger doses in order to achieve the initial effect—and withdrawal symptoms when the user stops.