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Definitions of Drug Addiction, Misuse, and Dependence

Do you have a drug addiction? You may be unsure.

Drug addiction occurs when the brain’s function and your behavior have changed due to your use of substances. As a disease, addiction makes it nearly impossible to stop using the substance, and you find yourself seeking it out often even though you know it is harmful.

Drug addiction can occur with the use of many types of drugs, including:

These drugs have the ability to trigger the pleasure center in the brain, the area of your brain that’s designed to continue to seek out experiences that feel good. Because drugs overstimulate this part of the brain, the brain begins to prompt drug-seeking behavior.

So how do you know if you are addicted to the substances you’re using, especially if you’re just using them recreationally?

Symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Feeling a need to use the substance on a consistent basis
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, including pain and discomfort when you are not able to use the substance
  • Always thinking about the next time you’ll be able to use the substance
  • Taking prescription medications outside of the prescription’s parameters
  • Facing emotional and relationship issues because of your need to seek out drugs

Addiction severely compromises your ability to manage your own actions. Once you’re addicted to a substance, it can be very hard or impossible to stop using it unless you have help. 

What Are Misuse and Tolerance?

Drug misuse occurs when a person is using substances extensively and in a risky way. This may mean using someone else’s pain medications or using illegal substances that are known to be harmful to a person’s health. Many people misuse drugs as a form of self-medication, to ease chronic pain or unhappiness, to alleviate anxiety, to relax in social situations, etc. Most people who misuse drugs do so because they enjoy the euphoric or numbing effects.  There is a difference between drug misuse and addiction, though.

A person with an addiction has changed their brain chemistry to such an extent that they are unable to stop using these substances on their own. They understand the risks of continued use to their health and well-being, and they may want to stop using them but find that they cannot.  With drug misuse, you have a little more control.

You are still able to decide to stop using and then to stick to that commitment. It will probably be hard, but you do not need detox or long-term care.  Tolerance is the point at which drug misuse may cross the line into dependence. Tolerance occurs as your body becomes used to a drug, so much so that it requires a higher dose to produce the results you want and need. You may feel that using the same dose of a painkiller is no longer enough, and you need to take more, or you may need to use that substance more often to keep the edge off.

Tolerance is dangerous because it means you’ll add more toxins to your body in an effort to achieve the high. This increases the risk of overdose and addiction. Consider Dependence As tolerance increases, dependence is likely to develop. Dependence means the body has become physically dependent on the drug in order to function “normally.” If your body reacts in a negative way when you stop taking a drug (maybe with nausea, aches, or mood swings, for example), you have developed a physical dependence on that drug. When dependence occurs, addiction is likely to follow. Addiction occurs when the need for the drug becomes not just physical but psychological as well. 

How to Get Help for Addiction

Do you think you may have an addiction? Even if you’re not sure, it’s worth it to seek out help from a licensed professional. Here’s what can happen when you do. You’ll learn about treatment options in your area. A therapist and doctor will provide an assessment to determine the level of care appropriate for you. You can enter residential treatment or outpatient therapy depending on what’s best suited for your needs. You may go through a detox program to help you to break your dependence. You’ll work hand-in-hand with professionals to stop using substances and learn new ways to cope.

You’re not alone in this battle. Reach out to the team at Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona, to learn more about our treatment options for addiction.


If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder or a co-occurring disorder, help is available. Call and speak to a caring professional at Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona. We use a combination of medical, psychiatric, and clinical approaches to help you achieve lasting sobriety.

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