Abusing drugs and alcohol can lead to serious consequences, from damaged relationships to long-term health conditions – and tragically, it’s a widespread problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a quarter of the U.S. population engages in heavy alcohol consumption, and over 10% of Americans aged 12 and older have used an illicit drug in the past month.

Even occasional drug use can be fatal; in the year 2017, there were over 70,000 deaths related to drug overdoses. And all too often, repetitive substance abuse creates a crippling physical dependency that makes it impossible to function without drugs or alcohol. With timely intervention and treatment, however, substance abuse and dependence can be overcome.

The Difference Between Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence

The terms “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re actually two different conditions. Substance abuse is a pattern of drug or alcohol use that leads to negative consequences. It often brings about problems in work or school, impacts relationships with friends or family members, and introduces dangerous or potentially life-threatening situations.

Dependence, however, is a physical and mental reliance on drugs or alcohol. People who struggle with substance dependence are unable to stop using despite the negative consequences, and experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they do.

How Substance Abuse Leads to Dependence

In many cases, sustained substance abuse can lead to dependency. The longer you abuse alcohol or drugs, the more you’ll need to consume to achieve the same effect. This is known as tolerance. As your tolerance increases, your brain chemistry will eventually adapt in such a way that you no longer simply want the substance – you need it. When you don’t have it, you go into withdrawal, with symptoms ranging from insomnia and anxiety to tremors and vomiting. Sometimes, withdrawal can be life-threatening, requiring close medical observation and hospitalization.

Recognizing Alcohol or Drug Abuse and Dependency

Some of the more common signs of substance dependency include:

  • Increased drug or alcohol usage over time, in terms of both frequency and amount
  • Intense cravings that consume your thoughts
  • Significant change in personality, attitude, or demeanor
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Mood swings
  • Disinterest in socialization or personal hygiene
  • Noticeable weight loss or weight gain

If you or someone you love are exhibiting any of these symptoms or behaviors, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Treatment for Substance Abuse and Dependence

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for substance abuse. Treatment plans are developed individually based on the individual’s specific symptoms, medical history, and how long they’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol. Most reputable programs will include some combination of the following:


  • Detox


Safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol in a controlled, medically supervised environment to ensure the patient’s health and safety. Detox can last anywhere from two days to a week, or possibly more.


  • Therapy


Behavioral counseling can help a person learn to modify behaviors, identify triggers, and develop coping mechanisms for handling cravings and temptations.


  • Medications


Sometimes, medications are used to prevent relapses or to address the symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders.


  • Support groups


Talking with others who’ve been in similar situations can help build a sense of community, provide encouragement, and learn new strategies for maintaining sobriety.

You Can Overcome Substance Abuse with Help from Pacific Health Systems

Recovery is possible. Pacific Health Systems can help. We offer comprehensive treatment for substance abuse disorders, chemical dependency, and co-occurring mental illness in a safe, supportive, and highly specialized environment. Our team of experienced medical professionals will help you detox safely and design a customized treatment plan to help you overcome your addiction.

For more information on our chemical dependency treatment program, call us at (619) 631-0128 today.