Difference Between Substance Abuse and Dependence

Substance use, abuse, and dependence are three terms that have become very common and almost household, courtesy all the limelight that drug and alcohol addiction has hogged in the last few decades. It is the use of substance that takes place in the first place. This use becomes abuse and finally leads to a kind of dependence in such a fashion that the individual cannot function in a normal manner without this substance. This article highlights the differences between substance abuse and dependence, to remove all doubts about the usage of these two terms.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse begins with the use of a substance and soon the individual consumes the substance excessively to face negative consequences. If an individual drinks alcohol excessively and is even caught under DUI but continues drinking, that person is said to be abusing alcohol.

In simplest of terms, drug abuse is drug use when it starts to create problems for the individual as well as those in the life of the individual. It is seen that an individual has to increase the amount or quantity of substance to get the same kick out of it. The drug causes health problems to the individual, but he continues with it. This is known as drug or substance abuse.


Dependence is a stage that is reached when the body of the individual starts to feel the need of the substance in such a manner that he cannot live or function normally without it. This is a stage when the individual is said to be addicted to a substance or drug. The dependence is not just physical but also psychological and the individual faces withdrawal symptoms when he tries to leave using the substance. When a person becomes an addict, he seems to have a preoccupation with the drug and is thinking about it all the time. When the abuse becomes dependence is not clear to those who are close of the individual, but doctors make use of defined criteria to differentiate between abuse and dependence.

Substance Abuse vs Dependence

• Casual use of a substance becomes abuse when an individual starts to consume it in excess, and it produces harmful consequences for him or to others.

• If an individual misses his social obligations and engages in reckless activities while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that person is said to be abusing the substance.

• Dependence is a stage that is final and sets in when the body and the mind of the individual starts to crave for the substance. He cannot function in a normal manner without the substance. He experiences withdrawal symptoms when he is denied use of the substance.

• Drug dependence is said to have set in when the individual develops a level of tolerance for the drug or the substance.