The Difference Between Experimenting and Addiction

There is a difference between experimentation and addiction to drugs—just because a person is using drugs does not mean they are an addict. When a person uses drugs recreationally or is experimenting with drugs, they are making a conscious decision. They can also control when and how much they take.

Addiction is a chronic problem and much more serious than recreational drug use—an addict cannot control their need and impulses for drugs and/or alcohol, which can lead to serious consequences. Chronic drug use causes the brain to change overtime, challenging a person’s self-control and impulse-control, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

How does addiction work?

The chemicals in drugs affect the way nerve cells send out communication waves through the brain and body, reducing the brain’s natural chemical messengers, and increasing the “reward circuit” of the brain. Different drugs have different effects on the brain due to their chemical properties, but in general they all have a negative impact on the brain.

Image Kaushik Narasimhan

A person with an addiction will most likely have an addictive personality—a trait that may not be present in a recreational user. However this is not always the case as many drugs have addictive qualities.

Signs of addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Withdrawn personality
  • Change in social group
  • Poor academic performance/attendance
  • Deteriorating relationships with family
  • Change in sleeping and eating habits

If you believe your teen has a problem with drugs—whether it’s recreational use or an addiction—talk to them and express your support and concern. Having an open door to communication with your teen shows them that you care about their well-being and prevent or reduce the likelihood of them trying drugs in the first place. It is also worth considering seeing a doctor, addictions specialist or counsellor about their drug use.

Featured image Neil Moralee