The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Addiction

drug paraphernalia

Many people use the terms substance abuse and addiction interchangeably, but there are considerable differences between the two.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) separates individuals into three categories when describing their condition. As with many medical conditions, a proper diagnosis of addiction or substance abuse is the first step in receiving proper care at a South Florida treatment center.

Defining Substance Abuse and Addiction

The DSM wraps individuals into one of three categories. These categories are no substance use disorder, abuse only, or dependence. The criteria for each diagnosis varies, but if an individual meets the criteria for two, they will only be diagnosed with one. For example, if a person meets the criteria for both abuse and dependence, they will be diagnosed with dependence. How does an individual receive a diagnosis? There are many factors that feed into a diagnosis, including behaviors, psychological symptoms, and even genetic factors.

Medical professionals tend to diagnose addiction as the third category in the DSM, which is dependence. For the average individual, substance dependence and addiction are synonyms. Recently, there’s been a push in the medical community to begin using the word addiction over-dependence. Many medical professionals believe that dependence implies only a physical dependency, while addiction better encapsulates the varied factors and forces of an active addiction.

The Differences Between Addiction and Substance Abuse

While addiction and dependency are typically regarded as one in the same, addiction and substance abuse are very different. Both addiction and substance abuse involve abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other substances. But that seems to be the only parallel. With substance abuse, individuals are not physically, emotionally, or mentally bound to the substances they’re abusing. While the substance abuse can still be dangerous, it is not an all-consuming need or compulsion.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a more intense and often challenging diagnosis requiring specialized treatment at a South Florida treatment center. Addiction is not one single feature, but rather a combination of several factors. The factors that define addiction include engagement in a dangerous behavior for specific results, loss of control, preoccupation with a behavior, temporary relief, and suffering of negative consequences due to the behavior.


Our facility provides diagnosis, detox, and personalized addiction treatment in Stuart. Contact our office today to get started at 888-280-4763.

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Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.