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Implicitly, we understand there’s a difference between someone who recreationally uses a drug and someone who is addicted, but what qualifies as recreational drug use? For each substance, and for individual persons, the distinction may vary. In essence, the differences between an addiction on a drug and recreational use can be distinguished by certain factors such as frequency, dependence, cravings, withdrawal, impact on health, impact on daily life, among others.

Addiction by Dependence and Frequency

Alcohol, for example, can be recreationally enjoyed with special dinners, or it could be consumed sparingly for enjoyment. For people addicted to alcohol, however, the substance becomes a necessity. For these drinkers, the typical benefits of alcohol, like relaxation and the release of pleasure endorphins, are no longer the desired outcomes. Rather, alcoholics may experience negative symptoms, like cravings, exhaustion, or sickness when absent of alcohol. One submission to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology detailed 29 different stages of dependence based on severity of symptoms. When the lack of a chemical can determine your mood, energy, or health, that’s the basis of a dependence.

Likewise, as alcohol drinking progresses, a frequent drinker may go from a beer or two on drinking days to several beers or stronger liquors. As the dependence and addiction builds, it takes more frequent or stronger doses to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. When you start increasing dosage to compensate for a growing tolerance to the substance, it can be another sign of a growing addiction.

Addiction Through Cravings and Withdrawal

Heroin addiction is a dangerous form of dependency, where cravings sometimes become intolerable without professional help, and withdrawal symptoms can be severe. In the case of heroin, there is no clear recreational use of the drug. The potency, addictive nature of the drug, and danger to health make the risks greatly outweigh the short term benefits of a quick high. Addiction forms quickly and easily in strong opioids like heroin and cravings can be intolerable. Many users express a desire to quit heroin, but continuously return to the drug, sometimes going to great lengths to get a fix. When the cravings for a drug overpower will and reason, and you can no longer resist the urge to seek it out, that’s the most pressing sign of a serious addiction.

Many times, overcoming heroin addiction is more than just willpower and resilience. With serious addictions, the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely dangerous. Many users coming down from opioid addictions will require attentive care and synthetic opioids like methadone to help negate the severe withdrawal symptoms. Children born addicted to opioids like heroin often have to be treated in the ICU because of the high risk of death.

Addiction Impacting Health and Daily Life

If a substance begins to control the flow of your daily life or risk your health, you should seek immediate addiction detox and recovery. Cocaine-addiction, for example, is frequently related to high levels of stress, high risk of coronary disease, and unhealthy work-life balances. Simply put, if a substance is managing you, your emotions, or your health, it’s the sign of a serious addiction that should be addressed immediately.

Distinguishing Between Recreational Drug Use and Addiction

Ultimately, the difference between recreational use and addiction can be complicated and often subjective. If you suspect a growing dependency or addiction in yourself or a loved one, we deeply suggest calling a professional rehab provider like ourselves to help you understand the signs, risks, and ways we can approach recovery together.