Not everyone who has used drugs develops an addiction. Some people may partake in drug use on an irregular or casual basis and be able to continue with normal living without cravings interfering. This is what most people assume will happen when they first use substances, although countless among them develop a life-altering addiction. While almost every addiction starts with casual use, there is a distinction between recreational use and substance use addiction. 

In this article, we’ll answer the question that’s probably crossed your mind if you’re using drugs: What is considered recreational drug use, and how is it different than heavy drug use? Plus, we’ll offer some common signs that drug use has gone too far and what to do about it.

What is considered heavy drug use?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines heavy drug use, or addiction, as a chronic condition in which a person’s body is rewired to crave a substance despite significant negative consequences. Addiction can interfere with work, school, relationships and daily living.

Addiction typically means that someone is unable to refrain from using a drug for a day and will struggle to govern his or her own thoughts about the drug. While a person may be aware of the harmful effects of the drug, he or she will continue to use it.

What is recreational drug use?

Heavy drug use typically indicates that a person has developed a tolerance and dependency on a drug. Thus, cravings feel impossible to curb or ignore, and a person returns to the drug on a frequent basis. If someone uses drugs on a daily basis, it’s clear that recreational drug use is no longer the appropriate term. Addiction has set in.

Recreational drug use refers to individuals who use substances less than twice a month. These individuals may partake in substance use in small amounts or only on rare social occasions, and will not feel withdrawal symptoms after using drugs. Due to the euphoric effects of drugs and the brain’s compulsion to experience the high sensation again, recreational use rarely stays recreational.

What’s the difference between casual and heavy drug use?

Heavy drug use means that a person is unable to successfully complete tasks necessary for daily life. For example, obtaining and/or using drugs may require lying and stealing from friends, leaving you unable to pay for rent or food. Maintaining employment may be disrupted by drug use also.

Moreover, addiction implies that a person’s self-control and personal agency have been hijacked by a drug. Different drugs act in different ways, but all change brain chemistry and neurotransmitter functioning — to the point where a person can’t say “no” to a substance.

Casual drug use generally means that a person has not developed an addiction to a drug, though the habit could still form in the future. When you’re using substances casually, you should be able to rationalize when, where and how to use a drug and be able to decide when to refrain from drug use with a clear mind.

Here’s a test to determine if you’ve developed a dependency on a drug: Avoid all substances for a month. If you’re able to refrain from substance use, you’re still in control. However, if cravings are so strong that you’re unable to commit to staying clean for a month, or even a week, it might be time to seek help before a full-fledged addiction sets in and ruins your life. 

What are some signs that my drug use has gotten out of control?

If you’re asking yourself “what is recreational drug use and has my habit spiraled?” use these signs of heavy drug use to find some clarity.

Due to the physical effects of drugs, you might:

  • Struggle to maintain employment
  • Miss commitments
  • Operate on a strange schedule (staying up all night, sleeping all day)
  • Use the substance again to escape the pain of withdrawal
  • Feel nauseous, achy or fatigued
  • Experience migraines, shaking, sweating or other adverse reactions
  • Endure the effects of the drug for days or weeks after your most recent use

Due to the psychological effects of drugs, you might:

  • Have trouble remembering important details
  • Have conflicts with family and friends frequently
  • Struggle to maintain or find an intimate relationship
  • Feel the need to hide your substance use
  • Feel angry, irritable or depressed
  • Have trouble feeling motivated to do tasks
  • Follow erratic behavior patterns
  • Struggle to maintain appropriate hygiene
  • Participate in risky activities you wouldn’t normally do

Due to the cost of drugs, you might:

  • Struggle to afford necessities (like housing, food, clothing, transportation)
  • Need to steal, borrow or lie to obtain money
  • Find yourself skipping meals

These and other substance use warning signs can give you insight into how a drug is impacting your life.

How do I get help for heavy drug use?

It can be a scary realization when you discover your recreational drug use has escalated into addiction. While you surely felt in control when you first used a substance, when you develop a substance use disorder it may feel like you’re no longer the master over your decisions, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Rest assured, you’re not the first person to feel this way. There are plenty of options available if you’re looking to seek help. When you’re ready to take back the power over your life, get connected to professional addiction treatment services.

Real Recovery can help. At Real Recovery, you can find treatment programs designed to address your personal needs and substance of use. Schedule your appointment with us or call (855) 363-7325 to get started today.