Close to Home
PBS Online
Thirteen / WNET
Moyers on Addiction Stripe
Return to Homepage Section: Science Sitemap

What Are the Differences Between a Drug User, a Drug Abuser, and a Drug Addict?

Many people assume that addiction is simply an overuse of drugs, and that the addict is just a drug user who chooses to use too much. But research has shown that addiction, unlike casual drug use, is no longer a matter of free choice. "Functionally you've moved into a different state, a state of compulsive drug use," says Alan Leshner, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "People have a lot of trouble understanding that addiction is not an issue of choice or will or morality. " The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association all define this state of driven, compulsive use as the essence of addiction. Someone who abuses drugs may suffer negative consequences from using, as the addict does, but generally can and does stop when these consequences become too severe. The addict may be unable to stop, even after massive negative consequences, without medical and/or behavioral help. Says Steven Hyman, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, "An alcoholic taking a drink looks like anyone else engaged in that behavior, but what's happening in his or her head is different. He or she is in the grip of a powerful compulsion that may lead to a binge.

-- Janet Firshein

ANIMATIONS | Differences | Crossing the Line | Relapse | Why Drugs? | Similar Effects | Dependence | Vulnerability | Changing Back | Interviews




PBS Online   |   Thirteen Online