Difference between Abuse and Dependence

Drugs and alcohol are strongly associated with abuse and dependency. Abuse and dependency are sometimes used interchangeably but mean different things. Despite their similarities, these two phrases cannot be used interchangeably while discussing drug usage. When we talk about substance abuse, we mean that people are using drugs or alcohol in an unhealthy way. Dependence can also be described as an addiction.

Substance dependency differs from drug abuse, defined as an intense desire to get the substance in question, due to the body's physiological demand for the drug.

There are distinctions between substance abuse and dependency. Substance abuse is defined as the misuse or excessive use of any psychoactive substance (including prescription pain relievers, antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, and other drugs) notwithstanding warnings or recommendations from a medical professional. This is not evidence of dependence or addiction. Tolerance to the substance or withdrawal symptoms are signs of addiction. Addiction, the "worst" among them, is a mental illness in which the user is dependent on the substance and continues to use it despite the adverse effects on the individual or their family.

What is Abuse?

Abuse occurs when one takes more of a substance than is safe. As a warning indication, it may indicate that the user is engaging in unlawful drug activity. They are, therefore, inappropriately abusing the substance. Misuse of prescription opioids, for instance, might result in a cascade of complications that calls for detoxification from such drugs. Drug abuse often shows these signs −

  • Extending the duration of pharmacological treatment past the prescribed time

  • Addicting oneself to a substance in a way that it was not designed to be used

  • Taking part in a drug−using behavior

  • Taking part in risky or unlawful activities while under the influence

  • Combining or attempting to experiment with many medicines

In the same way that dependency is a kind of abuse, substance abuse may be classified as such. It is essential, however, to differentiate between occasional abuse and chronic dependency. At a party, someone may inhale a lot of cocaine and have short−term negative effects. They could decide they don't want to snort cocaine again after that. An incident of abuse in this one. This, however, does not indicate that the person's brain and body are physically and psychologically reliant on the medication.

What is Dependence?

The difference between drug dependency and drug abuse may be seen in how often and for how long substances are used. A person who consumes marijuana once every six months is not an addict. Chronic pot smokers are addicts if they can't cut back on their use.

Substance dependency develops when chronic drug abuse continues despite negative consequences. Dependency develops gradually over time, sometimes weeks, months, or years. Indicators of drug dependency include some of the following −

  • Exit efforts that have always failed

  • Addiction is characterized by a complete preoccupation with the drug.

  • Increasing Doses and Incidence Despite Dangers

  • Habits of taking unnecessary risks that only appear to worsen

  • failure to fulfill duties at home, in the workplace, or in the classroom

  • Neglecting or refusing to acknowledge a problem

A drug addict's perception of their condition typically centers on their connection to the drug. They are so dependent on the substance that they won't stop taking it even if it destroys their lives. Detoxification from drugs or alcohol is necessary to completely free the body of its habit.

Differences: Abuse and Dependence

The following table highlights how Abuse is different from Dependence −

Characteristics Abuse Dependence
Definition Substance abuse refers to a drug's unintentional or harmful use. Dependence is described as an addiction to drugs.
Severity Lack of strong urge or compulsion to continue drug use. When someone is dependent, they want to use drugs constantly.
Behavior Abuse refers to an intense want for a drug. When the body develops a dependence on a substance, it is called as dependency.


To sum up, abuse is the precursor to dependency, whereas dependence is the ultimate result of substance abuse. This suggests that the period of drug abuse is where the process of preventing dependence on substances might begin. The best course of action for someone who is already addicted to substances is to get assistance.

Updated on: 29-Nov-2022


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started