Substance Use, Abuse, and Dependence: Definition and Causes of Substance Disorders

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  • 0:06 Use, Abuse, & Dependence
  • 2:31 Sociocultural Factors
  • 3:20 Psychodynamic Factors
  • 4:34 Cognitive-Behavioral Factors
  • 5:22 Biological factors
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

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.

Sociocultural Factors

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.

Psychodynamic Factors

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.

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