There is a broad range of substance use – from abstinence to dependence. An individual’s substance use may change throughout their life, for a variety of reasons.The following information describes the continuum of substance use. Where do you sit on this continuum?
*information adapted from the Ontario HIV & Substance Use Training Program (OHSUTP)
Continuum of Use:
No Use – the person does not use particular substances.
Experimental Use – the person tries a substance and may or may not use it again.
Social or Occasional Use – the person uses the substance in an amount or frequency that is not harmful (e.g., drink on social occasion; ceremonial use).
Medication (prescribed) – the person uses a medication as directed, under medical supervision. Risks are minimized.
Problematic Use – the person experiences negative consequences from using a substance (e.g., health, family, school, work, financial, legal problems).
Dependence – the person is psychologically and/or physically dependent on a substance and continues using, despite experiencing serious problems. Withdrawal symptoms may exhibit if use stops.
Notes about the continuum of use:
1. People do not automatically move along the continuum.
- Some people may stay social users for their entire lives.
- Some people can move around the continuum over time.
2. People can be at different points of the continuum for different substances.
3. Where a person is on the continuum, does not necessarily impact her/his ability to manage and minimize risks. For example:
- Someone that is “heavily addicted” may still use new equipment every time.
- A long time cocaine user may overdose.
- A social user may overdose or spend too much.
4. For people struggling with dependency, not using for a while, then using again (sometimes referred to as “relapse”) is the norm.
5. The reason(s) people start to use are not always the reason(s) they continue to use.