The Difference Between Substance Misuse and Substance Abuse

Based on a 2018 drug study the US government estimates that 31.9 million Americans over the age of 12 use illicit drugs. The alarming statistic forces the next question, “What does this mean exactly?”

While some people abuse drugs, many misuse them. Knowing the difference between substance abuse and substance misuse will help you take the proper course of action for helping your loved one.

Read on to learn the difference between drug abuse and misuse.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse refers to the use of illicit drugs or medications without a prescription with the intention of getting high. You will notice their life starts crumbling in a number of ways due to poor physical and mental health.

Their relationships tend to fall apart as well. The person may harm themselves or others due to the effects of the drug. They may also face pressing financial and legal consequences.


The signs of substance abuse include:

  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Unexplainable weight loss or gain
  • Hyperactivity or lethargy
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors
  • Excessive sweating
  • Behavioral changes
  • Stealing
  • Poor hygiene
  • Losing a job

A person abusing substances may only show some of these signs, depending on which drug they take. Drug abuse negatively impacts a person’s life.

Drug abuse can easily lead to drug addiction and needs prompt attention.

What to Do

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing drugs, intervene. This can prove difficult as they may lie or make you feel guilty.

Get a group of loved ones together to talk with them about the issue. More importantly, express how much you care as a reason for them getting help.

When a person abuses drugs, they typically need more extensive treatment, like inpatient rehab where they can completely break habits and relearn how to live. Know more here.

Substance Misuse

Substance misuse occurs when a person takes medication differently than prescribed or intended. It does not involve illegal substances but does form a gray area sometimes depending on how they take their prescription drugs.

Some examples of drug misuse include:

  • Forgetting to take prescribed medications
  • Taking more medication than prescribed
  • Using medication for reasons other than its intended use

Warning signs of substance misuse are similar to those of substance abuse, but not as extreme. The person may seem sleepier or more talkative than normal, or their behavior may seem a bit off. They may also display behavioral changes.

What to Do

If you suspect substance misuse, talk with your loved one. Find out why they might misuse it.

Ask if they understand the instructions provided by the doctor. If they say that they need more to feel better or get out of pain, urge them to speak with their doctor about changing the dose or the medication.

If you see a gray area between abuse and misuse after speaking with them, they may need professional help. Gently suggest looking into outpatient rehab, where they can avoid becoming dependent on the drug.

Grow Stronger

Growing stronger does not only mean working out and eating right. It also means taking care of yourself and your loved ones when possible.

Deterring drug misuse and abuse will help you and those around you live a happier and healthier life. For more health tips, keep reading on our website!

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