Difference Between Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction - Paper Example

Published: 2023-12-16
Difference Between Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction - Paper Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Abuse Substance abuse
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 974 words
9 min read


Substance use refers to the use of anything that alters a person’s mood or cognition such as drugs or alcohol. The substances include illegal drugs, cigarettes, inhalants, prescription drugs, and solvents. A substance use problem occurs when the use of alcohol and other drugs results in harm to the user or others (Peele and Alexander, 2019). substance abuse involves the excessive use of psychoactive drugs such as pain medication, alcohol, or illegal drugs to an extent that results in emotional, physical, or social harm. Substance use mergers with abuse when chronic users begin to impair specific aspects of their life. Addiction, on the other hand, is a chronic, relapsing disorder that is characterized by compulsive seeking and using drugs despite their associated adverse consequences (Peele and Alexander, 2019. Addiction arises when the regular use of the drugs results in physical dependence, health complications from substance use, inability to take on daily responsibilities, and “cravings” for the drug or alcohol.

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Models and Theories Related to the Etiology of Addiction

Various theories attempt to explain the reason behind people’s dependence on drugs. some of them include the neuroscientific theories, psychological theories, behavioral theories, cognitive theories, personality theories, and rational choice theories.

The neuroscientific theory provides an understanding of the effects of the drugs on the brain. It outlines the actions of each of the major drug classes. According to the theory, while each drug has its primary action on the brain, they follow two major pathways, i.e., the dopamine reward system and the endogenous opioid system, all of which are implicated as common to most of the drugs (Peele and Alexander, 2019.

According to the psychological theories, drug dependence is often based on the concepts that are common to other behavioral syndromes that involve impulsive or compulsive behavior such as gambling or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The behaviorist model of addiction mainly focuses on direct observable behaviors. It maintains the fact that a behavior is maintained (or more likely made) by the consequences or reinforcers of the behavior (Peele and Alexander, 2019. An example of instrumental behavior is drug self-administration that arises from the activities of persons, who become instrumental in experiencing the consequences (the drug’s effects).

Cognitive theories explain drug dependence basing on cognitive constructs. The theory proposes self-regulation as a vital factor in the development of problems relating to drug use. It analyses the aspects of self-regulation and how it contributes to the problem of substance abuse (Peele and Alexander, 2019. According to the theories, addictive behaviors are a result of excessive reliance on external structures, i.e., excessive reliance on substance abuse results in drug dependence.

The personality theory asserts that some people are more prone to addiction due to an “addictive personality.” According to the theory’s psychological resource model, one develops the habit of taking drugs because the specific drug fulfills a particular purpose that relates to the personality profile of the individual.

The rational choice theory examines the reason behind people’s voluntary engagement in self-destructive behavior. According to the theory, one of the central elements of drug dependence is the individual’s impaired control over their use of the substance. This manifests even in their continued use despite their wish to stop or reduce using the drug.

Evolution of Substance Abuse

Humans have been using mind-altering substances for decades. In some cultures, drug use and alcohol consumption has been a part of their daily lives. However, due to science and technology, drug use has changed from natural substances in the prehistoric times such as Cannabis, Alcohol, Blue Lotus, Tobacco, Opium, and Cocaine to new drugs and synthetics. Over the last century, science and technology have led us to establish more powerful drugs that have impacted drug abuse in the 21st century. This has led to changes in drug potency such as:

  • Marijuana whose THC percentage increased from 10 percent to now 30 or up to 55 percent.
  • Alcohol whose ABV was between 0.5 to 2.8 percent but currently resonates around 4.0 to 6.5 percent.
  • Heroin whose purity increased by 60 percent between 1990 and 2007.
  • Cocaine whose purity increased by 11 percent from 1990 to 2007 (Dualdiagnosis.org, 2020).

There are also changing trends and punishments about drugs. since the 1960s, the overall sentiments on drug abuse has been changing, and the 2000s led to more states lowering their laxing and punishment laws (Dualdiagnosis.org, 2020). Regarding punishment, the governments are also moving away from the mandatory prison terms for non-violent drug crimes to providing treatment for illegal drug users.

Effects of Substance Abuse and Addiction to the Criminal Justice System

According to the National Institute of Corrections (2020), drug-related arrests, incarcerations, and convictions continue to increase annually. As a result, the criminal justice system is faced with the problem of how to handle these large numbers of people with issues to do with addiction and substance abuse who are flooding the system. With the unfolding of the opioid epidemic, correctional facilities are establishing best practices that will help to handle the ever-increasing demand for substance abuse and addiction. They do this by referring the drug offenders to the treatment through various mechanisms such as stipulating treatment as a condition of probation, incarceration, or pretrial release among others (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2012). However, the most effective models involve their integration with the drug treatment systems and services where they test, monitor, and supervise the affected.


Dualdiagnosis.org (2020). The History of Drug Abuse and How it’s Changed. Dualdiagnosis.org. https://dualdiagnosis.org/the-history-of-drug-abuse-and-how-its-changed/

National Institute of Corrections (2020). Drugs and Substance Abuse in the Criminal Justice System. Nicic.gov. https://nicic.gov/drugs-substance-abuse-criminal-justice-system

National Institute of Drug Abuse (2020). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-based Guide. Drugabuse.gov. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/what-role-can-criminal-justice-system-play-in-addressing

Peele, S., & Alexander, B. (2019, December 24). The Meaning of Addiction. Peele.net. https://www.peele.net/lib/moa3.html

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