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Substance Abuse vs. Chemical Dependency

Press Release

People often use the terms "substance abuse" and "chemical dependency" interchangeably. However, the terms do not mean the same thing, and each refers to a unique aspect of a person's potentially harmful relationship with drugs and alcohol. In this article, we discuss the differences between each term, and we also discuss treatment options for individuals who suffer from drug and alcohol use. Unfortunately, unhealthy relationships with drugs and alcohol can affect anybody. People need to know that substance abuse and chemical dependency issues do not have to be a part of their life forever.

What is the difference between substance abuse vs. chemical dependency?

When a person uses drugs or alcohol, those substances provide them with perceived short-term benefits. The person may experience a high or otherwise feel good, and those feelings will motivate the person to use alcohol or drugs again in the future.

A person who uses drugs and alcohol recreationally may soon start to abuse those substances. Substance abuse occurs when drug or alcohol use impairs a person's cognition or causes adverse health effects. Often, impairments from drug and alcohol use are only temporary. However, in some cases, drug and alcohol use can lead to long-term consequences, which usually occur as injuries that a person suffers in their impaired state. For example, a person who is under the influence of alcohol may suffer injuries from a DUI car crash. In other cases, the person may lose consciousness or lose their pulse and die from the physiological effects of the consumed substance.

Substance abuse can advance into substance use disorder. In cases of a substance use disorder, the person knows the harmful consequences of their actions and they decide to continue to abuse the substance anyways. The person may show symptoms of making social plans around access to their desired substance, and they may find themselves looking for opportunities to have access to the substance.

Chemical dependency, also known as physical dependency, occurs when a person must consume the substance to function with activities of daily living. Chemical dependence occurs from continued instances of substance abuse where the body develops a physiological expectation and need for substance's chemical compounds. When people with chemical dependency do not have access to their needed substance, they may experience withdrawal episodes. Withdrawal episodes include serious symptoms such as clammy skin, anxiety, tremors, and seizures.

When a person becomes chemically dependent, the person becomes obsessed with obtaining the substance. Unlike people with substance abuse disorder who may only angle to attend parties where they may consume the substance, chemically-dependent people will purchase the substance themselves and consume it alone in their home environment or anywhere else. In addition to impacting their health, their compulsive need for the substance often begins to affect their personal and professional lives. The person may ignore interpersonal relationships, lash out at loved ones, and suffer from poor work performance. The person may also experience financial consequences, as they will misuse their financial resources to pay for their needed substance.

What should people who have an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol do for treatment?

Treatment options do exist for substance abuse and chemical dependence issues. Those who suffer from an unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol must know that they are not alone in their struggle. Their struggle does not have to define them, and there is a path forward to reclaiming their life.

People who engage in substance abuse can choose from a variety of outpatient and inpatient treatment programs at a behavioral health facility. Programs typically combine individual and group therapy sessions, and special programs do exist for people with co-occurring mental illness. Sometimes, substance abuse treatment programs will use medication to help people end cravings for the substance.

Treatment options for chemical dependence almost always occur in an inpatient setting. Chemical dependence programs include a medical component, where medical professionals monitor the patient for withdrawal complications during the detoxification process. The inpatient setting is vital for chemical dependence treatment, as medical attention is nearby, and staff members can monitor the patient 24/7. The detoxification process can take up to 10 days. However, the exact timeline varies with each patient and the type of substance that the patient used.

How can Vista del Mar Hospital help people who suffer from substance abuse or chemical dependence?

Vista del Mar Hospital has a variety of programs for people who suffer from substance abuse and chemical dependence in the greater Ventura, CA area. We offer outpatient services and adult inpatient programs for substance-related issues, and we host behavioral health support groups for ongoing mental health care plans.

To see if treatment for substance abuse or chemical dependency is right for you or a loved one, please reach out to our staff anytime at (805) 653-6434. You can also learn more about our programs and behavioral health topics with our behavioral health resource list.