Substance use, abuse, and dependence are often confused with each other. In this lesson, we'll look at the differences between the three and common causes of addiction.
Use, Abuse, and Dependence
Like many college students, Jeremy likes to go out with his friends and drink alcohol. They have a good time, and everyone knows that Jeremy's always up for a party. But a few of the people closest to him have started worrying that perhaps he has a drinking problem. Are they right? Is Jeremy addicted? Or, is he just having a good time like other college students? To answer that question, let's start by defining some terms that are sometimes confused.
Substance use is when someone consumes alcohol or drugs. Remember Jeremy? The very first time that he took a sip of alcohol, he was using. Substance use does not always lead to addiction; many people occasionally use alcohol or certain drugs without being addicted. However, substance use always comes with the risk that it might lead to addiction.
Substance abuse, meanwhile, is when a person consumes alcohol or drugs regularly, despite the fact that it causes issues in their life. The issues caused by abuse may be related to their job, their personal life, or even their safety. People who abuse drugs and alcohol continue to consume them, regardless of the consequences. Last month, Jeremy's girlfriend threatened to break up with him because he drank too much and was mean to her when he did. Instead of using that as a warning sign, he kept drinking and lost his girlfriend. This is an example of substance abuse: He continues to drink, even though there are consequences.
Finally, substance dependency is a full-blown addiction. There are many symptoms of substance dependency, including developing a tolerance for the drug, going through withdrawal symptoms without it, and struggling to cut back on it. Jeremy has been drinking more and more alcohol. Lately, one or two beers just don't do anything to him; he needs quite a few before he feels the effects. And, when he tried to stop around finals time last semester, he had terrible headaches and couldn't stop shaking.
So, is Jeremy addicted? According to that definition, yes. Jeremy is dependent on alcohol, which is an indicator of addiction. What could cause an addiction like Jeremy's? There are many factors that can influence whether someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, including sociocultural, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and biological factors. Let's look a little closer at each one.
There are many sociocultural factors that influence alcohol and drug use. Sociocultural factors deal with the impact of society and culture on addiction. Everyone's heard of peer pressure, right? Having friends who drink or do drugs significantly increases the chances that someone will do those things. It's not just peer pressure, though. Think about society at large: In the United States, for example, drunkenness is often seen as humorous, and many alcoholics are described as being 'the life of the party.' Maybe Jeremy is encouraged to drink because he enjoys the attention he gets from the silly things he does.
There are also segments of society for whom drugs and alcohol are seen as an escape. Celebrities are often trapped in a cycle of drug and alcohol dependency that they use as a way to escape the pressures of trying to be perfect for the cameras.
In addition to the sociocultural factors that influence addiction, there are also psychodynamic factors that contribute to a person's addiction. Psychodynamic factors are emotional issues, past history, and psychological disorders. Emotional issues and past history are often linked together. A person who has experienced abuse, for example, might feel scared and powerless. They might then turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with those feelings.
Often, psychodynamic factors are subconscious. That is, a person doesn't realize that they are using drugs and alcohol to deal with the issues they have with their past. In fact, a person might not even realize that they have issues with their past! For example, maybe Jeremy feels inadequate when he's not drinking. As he talks to a psychologist, he realizes that his mother used to pay attention to him only when she had been drinking. This subconsciously makes Jeremy associate drinking with his mother's love.
In addition, mental illness can play a role in addiction. Many people who suffer from a psychological disorder turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. They become addicted because it helps them to feel better and deal with their mental illness. Again, though, they might not realize the reasons behind their substance abuse.
Cognitive-behavioral factors deal with the thought patterns and behaviors of addicts. The cognition, or thoughts, of addicts are shaped by how they think about their use and abuse. If an addict believes that the pros of using outweigh the cons, they are more likely to use. For example, Jeremy might believe that drinking alcohol is fun while abstaining is boring. In that case, he is more likely to drink.
Social learning theory says that people learn behaviors by watching other people be rewarded for that behavior. For example, imagine a child who sees their mother come home stressed out and frazzled, and then smoke marijuana and relax. That child is learning that smoking marijuana is a good, relaxing thing. As a result, the child is more likely to end up smoking marijuana himself.
There are some biological factors that also influence addiction. For example, some people have a genetic vulnerability to addiction. Various studies have shown that people who are biologically related to an addict are more likely to become an addict themselves, which indicates that there is a genetic link to addiction. If Jeremy's mother is an alcoholic, then he has a higher chance of becoming one himself.
Imagine a child who is put up for adoption as a newborn. He is raised in a home where alcohol and drugs are rarely, if ever, used and never abused. And yet, he becomes an addict. When he meets his biological parents, he realizes that they are both addicts. The fact that he and his biological parents share an addiction indicates that there is some genetic component.
However, genetics can't completely explain addiction. It can, however, indicate a tendency towards addiction. Whether or not a person ends up addicted has to do with their actions and environment as well as their genetics.
Substance use is any time someone consumes alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse occurs when a person uses drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences in their lives. Substance dependency is when a person is dependent on drugs or alcohol. There are many things that contribute to addiction, including sociocultural, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and biological factors.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify and explain the difference between substance use, abuse, and dependency
- Discuss the sociocultural, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and biological factors that influence addiction