Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Learn the differences between addiction vs substance use disorder, as well as how to receive help for you or your loved one at Black Horse Health.

How Black Horse Health Can Help You Heal From Addiction

At Black Horse Health, we understand the confusion that may come from attempting to understand your diagnosis. Phrases like “addiction,” “substance use disorder,” and “substance abuse,” may leave you or your loved one feeling isolated or overwhelmed. Know that you don’t have to undergo recovery alone.

Our team of skilled and compassionate specialists have over 100 years of combined experience, and we are committed to helping you or your loved one lead a fulfilling life by providing comprehensive treatment services for your symptoms.

With wellness services including substance use disorder treatment, addiction recovery help, and holistic therapy options,, we will create a path to wellness and sobriety that best meets your unique set of needs, goals, and experiences.

Harness the Power of Healing With Black Horse Health

Learn more about our substance use disorder treatment, other treatment opportunities, and how our Black Horse Health team of specialists can help you heal in this comprehensive article.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for more information or to begin your path to wellness today.

addiction vs substance use disorder

Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: Differences In Terminology

For many learning about substance use, the difference between addiction vs substance use disorder (SUD) can be complicated. Addiction and substance use disorder are two terms that share many similarities. However, they are two distinct terms.

Addiction refers to an individual’s intense and persistent craving for a substance or behavior. In many instances, addiction is considered the most severe form of substance use disorder.1

On the other hand, substance use disorder is a clinical and diagnostic term recognized by various medical communities. It represents a formal classification of problematic substance use. To be diagnosed with substance use disorder, one must meet the criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals.

Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: Terminology Summary

In essence, addiction vs substance use disorder often relies on context and purpose. Addiction is a more colloquial and personal term, while substance use disorder tends to be a more formal, clinical diagnosis. It guides the treatment and understanding of problematic substance use.

These terms are related but serve different purposes in describing the complex world of dependence.

Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: History of These Terms

The terms “addiction” and “substance use disorder” have evolved over time. This means they have also developed distinct historical contexts and connotations.

Addiction has a longer history. It originates from Latin roots that describe a state of being bound to something. Over the years, it evolved to include dependencies on substances, such as alcohol and drugs.2

In contrast, substance use disorder is a more recent term. This term gained prominence with advancements in medical and psychological understanding. It became more relevant with the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: Terminology Today

Addiction remains a well-known term with strong emotional connotations that are generally rooted in stigma. However, substance use disorder is the preferred clinical terminology. This emphasizes a medical perspective on the complex issue of substance-related challenges.

The shift in addiction vs substance use disorder reflects a broader shift. It provides a structured framework for healthcare professionals to help individuals.

Benefits and Limitations of Using Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder

There may be several advantages or limitations associated with certain terminology, such as:

Benefits of Using the Classification of "Addiction"

Although addiction may not be the modern medical term often used, there are still some benefits to utilizing this term.

These include:

  • Emotional Connection: “Addiction” is an emotive term. It can resonate with individuals who are experiencing the condition. This can also help convey the personal struggles and the overwhelming nature of the problem.
  • Recognizability: The term “addiction” is widely recognized and understood by the general public. As a result, using addiction vs substance use disorder may often be better for educational purposes.

Limitations of Using the Classification of "Addiction"

While there are certain advantages, there are also limitations to using addiction vs substance use disorder.

Some of the limitations to using this term may include:

  • Stigmatization: While it may help reduce stigma in some contexts, “addiction” can also create negative stereotypes. This may hinder individuals from seeking help.
  • Lack of Clinical Precision: This term lacks the clinical precision of “substance use disorder.” Because of this, it may not encompass the full range of substance-related issues. This includes co-occurring mental health conditions.3

Advantages of Using the Classification of "Substance Use Disorder"

Utilizing the term “substance use disorder” may be better in certain situations. Some of the advantages of this term include:

  • Clinical Accuracy: As mentioned, “substance use disorder” is a precise medical term. It allows healthcare professionals to categorize and treat conditions according to diagnostic criteria. This can also make relaying patient information or data easier by using a single term.
  • Reduced Stigma: This term is less likely to carry the same level of social stigma as “addiction.” This may make it easier for individuals to seek treatment without fear of judgment.

Limitations of Using the Classification of "Substance Use Disorder"

Although “substance use disorder” is the term most medical professionals use, it is not without its limitations.

Here are some of the potential limitations of using this term:

  • Lack of Emotional Impact: This term may lack the emotional resonance of “addiction.” This may make it less relatable for individuals experiencing substance-related challenges.
  • Complexity: “Substance use disorder” is a broad term. It can encompass various levels of severity, from mild to severe. Because of this, it may not capture the full spectrum of individual experiences.

Does Using the Term "Substance Use Disorder" Help Reduce Stigma?

Because substance use disorder helps highlight substance-related challenges as a mental health issue rather than a personal or moral issue, it can help reduce stigma. It portrays problematic substance use as a medical condition that can affect anyone.

This helps combat the stigma that substance-related challenges are a moral failing or a matter of personal weakness.4

Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder: Are There Instances When a Distinction is Important?

Most of the distinction between addiction vs substance use disorder may seem rooted in stigma and the evolution of language. While this may be true, other distinctions exist as well. For instance, in the case of certain substances or behaviors, one term may be better than the other.

Substance use disorder most often refers to addictions where substance use is present. This can include alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, and similar conditions.

However, other behavioral addictions do exist. This can include gambling addiction or sex addiction. While “substance use disorder” may not apply to this behavior, “addiction” more commonly does.

What Role Does the Brain’s Reward System Play in Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder?

The brain’s reward system plays a crucial role in both the development and maintenance of addiction, as well as in substance use disorder. However, there are important distinctions in how these neurological mechanisms function.


Addiction often involves the overactivation of the brain’s reward system. When an individual engages in addictive behaviors, such as using drugs or gambling, the brain’s reward circuitry is stimulated to release higher levels of dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reinforcement.

Over time, repeated exposure to these heightened dopamine levels can lead to neuroadaptation. This is where the brain becomes less responsive to natural rewards like food or social interaction. This results in a decreased ability to experience pleasure from everyday activities.

This generally is the driving factor of why individuals seek out the addictive substance or behavior to recapture that euphoric feeling.

Substance Use Disorder

Not all individuals with substance use disorder experience addiction. Some may misuse substances due to factors like stress, coping with trauma, or peer pressure, without necessarily developing the neuroadaptive changes seen in addiction.

Substance use disorder can manifest with varying degrees of severity, from mild to severe. Not all individuals with a substance use disorder meet the criteria for addiction. It depends on the extent of compulsive drug-seeking behavior and the neurological changes in the reward system.

While both addiction and substance use disorder involve the brain’s reward system, addiction typically signifies a more severe and chronic condition characterized by neuroadaptation, compulsive behavior, and heightened cravings.

How Does The Difference Between Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder Impact Treatment? 

Understanding the distinctions between addiction vs substance use disorder influences treatment approaches. This can occur in several different ways, such as:

Types of Interventions

The difference between addiction vs substance use disorder is especially important when considering types of interventions.

Since addiction is recognized as a more emotive term, treatment approaches may place greater emphasis on addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of dependence. Therapies may delve into underlying issues while providing strong emotional support.

Even though the clinical term “substance use disorder” is very similar, it usually suggests a structured, diagnostic approach. Treatment plans are often tailored based on the severity of the disorder, with interventions that are more standardized and evidence-based.

Holistic Assessment

Understanding addiction’s personal and emotional dimensions may lead to a more comprehensive assessment. Therapists often explore an individual’s life circumstances, trauma history, and personal motivations. This helps to develop personalized treatment plans.

“Substance use disorder” emphasizes a standardized assessment based on diagnostic criteria. Treatment plans are structured to target specific symptoms and behaviors.

Treatment Modalities

Treatment for addiction may incorporate a broader range of therapeutic modalities. This includes psychodynamic therapy, holistic approaches, and support groups. The focus is often on delivering individualized care.

Interventions for substance use disorder often rely on evidence-based treatments. This includes those such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) when appropriate.

While evidence-based treatments are also often utilized for addictions, even process addictions like gambling addiction, treatment providers may still take a broader approach in general.

Genetics And Hereditary Factors In Substance Use Disorder

Genetics and hereditary factors play a large role in the development of addiction or substance use disorders. It’s important to understand these differences and factors in order to get the help individuals need.

Here’s an overview of their impact:

  • Genetic Predisposition: Genetic factors can increase susceptibility to SUD by influencing how the body processes and responds to substances.
  • Familial Patterns: SUD often runs in families. This indicates a hereditary component and a higher risk for individuals with a family history of substance abuse.
  • Specific Genes: Various genes have been linked to SUD risk. This includes those related to neurotransmitter regulation and impulse control.
  • Gene-Environment Interactions: Genetics interact with environmental factors, with SUD risk often influenced by exposure to specific environmental conditions. This includes trauma or peer pressure.
  • Epigenetics: Epigenetic changes can contribute to SUD development by altering gene expression.
  • Polygenic Nature: SUD is polygenic. This means it involves many genes working together in complex ways. Different gene clusters are often associated with vulnerability to various substances.
  • Implications for Treatment: Recognizing the genetic basis of SUD can aid in early intervention, prevention, and personalized treatment.

How Do Addiction vs Substance Use Disorder Intersect with Other Areas of Mental Health?

Addiction and substance use disorder often intersect with other areas of mental health. This creates complex and interconnected challenges. It’s important to ensure that the treatment center provides specialized treatment if the individual does struggle with a co-occurring disorder.

Here are some ways in which addiction and mental health disorders intersect:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders (Dual Diagnosis): SUD often co-occurs with mental health conditions, which is called dual diagnosis. This generally means that specialized care is needed for overall treatment.
  • Self-Medication: Some individuals use substances to cope with mental health symptoms, which can unintentionally lead to SUD.
  • Shared Risk Factors: Common risk factors contribute to both SUD and mental health disorders, such as genetics or environment.
  • Bi-Directional Influence: SUD can often worsen mental health symptoms. Mental health issues can also increase SUD risk over time.
  • Complicating Treatment Co-occurring disorders need simultaneous treatment for the best outcomes and treatment.
  • Impact on Recovery: Mental health symptoms and treatment can affect SUD treatment and vice versa.
  • Integrated Treatment: Simultaneous treatment for SUD and mental health disorders is often the most effective in ensuring holistic and comprehensive care.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: Recognizing trauma’s role is essential in both conditions to treat the roots of the issues.
  • Risk of Relapse: Co-occurring disorders increase the risk of relapse post-treatment.

How Can Black Horse Health Help?

Navigating addiction, substance use disorders, and other mental health conditions can be challenging. However, with Black Horse Health, you won’t have to go through it alone.

Black Horse Health, located in Houston, offers both inpatient and outpatient care. Our approach addresses the interconnected nature of mental health and substance use disorders.

Our treatment plans use evidence-based modalities tailored to your needs, helping empower you through your recovery.

What Do We Offer?

Our team at Black Horse Health is here to help you heal every step of the way. We can provide holistic and evidence-based treatments for trauma, chronic pain, mental health disorders, and substance use disorders.

Some of the treatment opportunities we offer to help you heal include:

  • 12 Step Model Integration
  • Art Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment
  • Harm Reduction Techniques
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • SMART Recovery
  • Trauma-Focused Therapy

We will meet with you to assess the severity of your symptoms in order to create a personalized treatment plan for your needs.

Get in Touch Today

To learn more about addiction vs substance use disorder, contact Black Horse Health today. We are here to meet you where you are and provide support.