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How are chemical abuse and addiction different?

There are formal diagnostic criteria for abuse and dependence, but simply put, abuse is use despite harmful consequences. These consequences may take the form of failing to meet responsibilities such as school or work, reckless or dangerous behavior while intoxicated/high, legal troubles as a result of use, and continuing use despite family or relationship problems with use as an issue.

Addiction or dependence is more severe. It includes such concepts as use despite harm, but adds inability to stop and loss of control. There are physiological changes such as increased tolerance (needing to prime and use prior to the party), withdrawal when not using, and possibly other health impact on either chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart conditions, hepatitis, and others) short and long term. Loss of control may be defined by self or others. This means the family or employer may recognize that an addicted person has lost control, and the addicted individual may recognize that even self imposed limits and plans for controlled use are not working. It is possible to be addicted without a physical dependence, as with cocaine or marijuana. Denial is so strong, that many times addiction is defined as “some manner of use or consequences different from mine.” That definition works, for a time, and then the addiction progresses and that specific behavior happens too.

Addiction is a very treatable brain disease. There is hope. Watch our flash videos for more information.


by: Lois Cochrane Schlutter, Ph.D. L.P.



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