Two question we commonly get asked are, “what’s the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction?” “Is there a difference at all?” Although the two terms sound similar, there are some key differences to be aware of. In this post, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between the two and how to get help.

Are you or a loved one struggling with a drug addiction? We can help. Olympus Recovery treats addiction and the underlying issues that fuel it. We recognize the needs and experiences of each individual client, and our program is designed with that in mind.

 What Is the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Addiction?

Drug abuse and addiction are two separate diagnoses [1]. You can abuse drugs without being addicted to them, although abuse typically leads to addiction.

The key difference between signs of drug addiction vs. signs of drug abuse lies in how much and how frequently you use and the severity of the problems the drug use has created in your life. For example, someone who uses cocaine one time at a party but vows to never do it again has abused the drug, but they are not addicted to it. On the other hand, someone who tries cocaine once at a party, loves the way it makes them feel, and goes on a path of destruction — financially, personally, and professionally — to continually seek out more cocaine would be considered addicted.

Drug Abuse Signs

The signs of drug abuse and drug addiction also vary. It’s important to recognize the signs of drug abuse so that you can get help before it spirals into addiction. Common signs of drug abuse include:

  • Recurring legal and financial issues that were not present before
  • Problems with personal and professional relationships and responsibilities
  • “Risking it all” just to get high, i.e., ignoring childcare duties and obligations, skipping work and/or school, and going on “benders” where you disappear from friends and family for days on end
  • Erratic behavior
  • Mood swings and changes
  • Secretive behavior
  • Physical damage to someone else or their property caused while under the influence of the substance

Drug Addiction Signs

Drug addiction is much more severe than drug abuse. In fact, addiction is considered a chronic disease of the brain and is accompanied by a physical and psychological need for drugs or alcohol [3]. The more drugs you use, the more drugs your body will need to feel “normal.” Unsurprisingly, the signs of drug addiction are a bit more severe and include:

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms after stopping drug use abruptly, including nausea and vomiting, sweating, intense cravings, agitation, depression and anxiety, tremors and shakes, panic, clammy skin, and psychosis [4]
  • Continuing to use the drug, despite the life-altering consequences it is having
  • Becoming extremely angry and aggressive when access to the substance is cut off
  • Lashing out at family, friends, and co-workers for minor issues
  • Feeling powerless to stop using, even if you want to
  • Not being able to function productively without using
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Frequent relapse
  • Collapsed veins
  • Liver failure
  • Respiratory problems
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Cancer
  • HIV/AIDS from needle-sharing
  • Hepatitis B and C from needle-sharing

If you meet the criteria mentioned above, you need immediate help. Call us confidentially at (866) 305-7134. Our admissions specialists can answer all your questions and put you on the road to recovery.

 Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction

Addiction is a disease, and the good news is that, like most diseases, addiction can be cured. The path to recovery is not easy, but it is possible, and you don’t have to go at it alone. Some ways to overcome addiction that have been proven effective include:


Psychotherapy and other behavior-based therapies are great ways to teach coping skills, help people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol develop new behavioral patterns and change their underlying thoughts that are contributing to addiction [3]. Some common types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is focused on identifying and changing the thoughts and behaviors that are causing the addiction. CBT has been proven effective in helping people overcome all different types of addiction [4].
  • Mindfulness also aims to resolve underlying mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, that are continuing to the addiction.
  • Family therapy is especially helpful for teens and young adults, as it focuses on getting the whole family involved in the recovery.


Certain medications are used to treat withdrawal symptoms to help keep people in treatment and prevent relapse. These medications are best suited for people under medical surveillance, and it’s important that each person speaks to a healthcare provider to find the medication and setting that will work best for them.

Managing Symptoms of Withdrawal

Oftentimes, people have every intention of getting clean, but the withdrawal symptoms are so severe that they push them back into drug use in order to cope. These symptoms include flu-like symptoms, physical pain, and nausea, and they can often be life-threatening. Detoxification programs are excellent, medically supervised ways to safely go through withdrawal while managing the nefarious side effects of coming off long-term drug or alcohol use.

Olympus Recovery Can Help

We hope this post has been helpful in determining the differences between the signs of drug addiction vs. the signs of drug abuse. If after reading through the signs of drug addiction, you believe you or a loved one are dealing with a substance addiction, Olympus Recovery is here for you. Our team of dedicated, empathetic, and skilled treatment professionals treats addiction and the underlying issues that fuel it. We recognize the needs and experiences of each individual client, and our program was designed with that in mind. Contact us today to learn more.

Start a new journey!

For immediate help call us confidentially at (866) 305-7134. Our admissions specialists can answer all your questions, and put you on the road to recovery.

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