There are two problems that arise when people encounter addictive substances: substance abuse and substance dependence. Often used interchangeably, these two terms actually have different definitions. Substance abuse can be used to mean substance dependence in some cases, but essentially refers to poor decision making in regards to moderating the use of a substance, such as binge drinking or smoking weed to the point of paranoia. Substance dependence is a medical condition in which the body has become physically dependent on a substance and will go into unpleasant or dangerous withdrawal symptoms without it. Both are dangerous to the individual and have detrimental effects on their life.
Substance abuse can often precede dependence, or refer to the overindulgence that leads to dependence, but in general, it means that a substance or multiple substances are being used incorrectly. Substance abuse can refer to a person taking the instructions for their prescription medications into their own hands and increasing the dosage from where the pharmacist recommended. It can also be demonstrated by the person that does not know when to cut their drinking off and regularly makes an intoxicated scene. Substance abuse simply refers to the using of a substance more heavily than it was intended to be used. It can be an isolated incident or a repeated incident. Addictive substances that are commonly misused are drugs, alcohol and food.
Substance dependence develops over time through repeated substance abuse. An addictive substance is one that has the ability to change the body’s chemistry to a state of reliance on the substance, first through tolerance and then through dependence. If a person wants to keep feeling the pleasurable effects of the substance, they have to continuously increase the amount they use to avoid tolerance. These ever increasing dosages lead to dependence on the substance; something that often requires professional medical and mental health treatment in order to reverse.