Drug Abuse and Drug Misuse Differences

Differentiating Between Drug Abuse Vs Drug Misuse

Drug abuse and drug misuse are two terms that mean different things, but they’re just similar enough that the lines between them often get blurred. In simple terms, drug misuse is when a substance is used in a way that’s not consistent with its intended or legal use. Drug abuse is different and poses a higher risk of addiction (substance use disorder) and harmful behaviors. 

Understanding the differences between drug abuse and drug misuse can help you better understand how serious a drug problem is and when it’s time to seek help. 

Difference Between Drug Misuse and Abuse 

The differences between drug abuse and misuse can be a bit difficult to understand. Both involve using drugs outside of their intended purpose, but the differences depend on “how” and “why” drugs are used. 

Drug misuse is usually connected to prescription medications that are used incorrectly or in a way that is different from why they were prescribed. However, illegal drugs aren’t excluded from the definition. 

There’s often an element of self-medication involved with drug misuse. This can lead to more severe side effects, which may potentially be dangerous. If left unchecked, drug misuse may escalate to drug abuse. 

Drug abuse is when a drug is used to elicit a certain feeling, including feelings of euphoria, altered thinking, or a body high. The term drug abuse includes both prescription and illegal drugs. It has a significant risk for drug addiction due to the types of experiences that are being sought and the potential for developing tolerance. 

Examples of Drug Misuse 

The National Institute of Drug Abuse describes drug misuse as “taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription medicine, even for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria.”

Examples of drug misuse include

  • Taking a high dose of medication that’s more than prescribed to manage pain
  • Taking medications at the wrong time to enhance the effects
  • Intentionally skipping doses of medication or not completing the entire prescription’
  • Using someone else’s prescription medication, regardless of the reason
  • Taking pain medication to relieve stress 
  • Using Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD medications to help you study
  • Mixing medications without physician knowledge

Examples of Drug Abuse 

Drug abuse and addiction are not the same thing, although they are closely connected. It’s possible for someone to abuse drugs only occasionally. However, these are behaviors that open up significant potential for addiction to develop. 

Most drugs that are abused have psychoactive properties, which means they produce changes in mood, feelings, behaviors, and awareness. Examples of abusing drugs include taking opioid medications to produce a feeling of euphoria or taking opioid medications compulsively, even without treating underlying pain. 

Drug abuse is not limited to opiates. For example, sedatives and stimulates can also be abused. 

Statistics on Misuse and Abuse Prevalence

While drug misuse is concerning, drug abuse tends to be more prevalent and poses a greater risk of addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • 9.3 million people aged 12 or older misused prescription pain relievers in 2020. This represents 3.3% of the population.
  • 59.3 million people abused illicit drugs in 2020. This is nearly 21.4% of the population aged 12 and older.
  • 10.3 million people misused prescription stimulants in 2020.

These statistics illustrate that while prescription misuse is common, abuse of illicit substances eclipses misuse in scale and severity in most cases. The risks of overdose, addiction, and long-term health consequences climb significantly with the abuse of illegal narcotics.

Can Drugs Be Used Recreationally?

The term “recreational use” refers to the use of illegal drugs and the misuse of prescription medications outside of their intended purpose. People tend to associate the word “recreational” with casual, non-problematic use, but this isn’t the case. 

By definition, the recreational use of drugs is, at the minimum, drug misuse, with more serious cases turning into drug abuse or drug addiction. Recreational drug use isn’t harmless and may lead to addiction and a long list of negative consequences to your health, relationships, social life, work life, and future. 

Can Drug Misuse Lead to Addiction

Misusing drugs may seem harmless, but it unfortunately creates a situation where abusing drugs and drug addiction is more likely. This is especially the case for prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. 

If you’re finding that drug misuse is becoming more and more common in your life, you have the opportunity to get help and make changes before what was once casual use turns into an addiction. There’s no such thing as risk-free drug misuse, and each instance comes with a greater risk. 

If you or a loved one are misusing or abusing drugs, the time to get help is now. Addiction is a disease that doesn’t show up unannounced. There are signs and behaviors along the way that signal a problem is on the horizon. Drug abuse and misuse fall into this category. 

Where To Get Help

Seeking help when you’re not sure if you need it is something that takes courage to do. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides great resources to help you identify when drug use is a problem. They also offer a national helpline that can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP. 

We’re also here to help at the Massachusetts Center for Addiction. We offer services for opioid addiction, benzodiazepine addiction, stimulant addiction, alcoholism, and other types of addiction diseases. We’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses your drug use before it gets worse. 

Contact the Massachusetts Center for Addiction today at 844-486-0671.

MCA Staff
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