Public health practitioners have attempted to look at drug abuse from a broader perspective than the individual, emphasizing the role of society, culture and availability. Rather than accepting the loaded terms alcohol or drug “abuse,” many public health professionals have adopted phrases such as “substance and alcohol type problems” or “harmful/problematic use” of drugs.

The Health Officers Council of British Columbia — in their 2005 policy discussion paper, A Public Health Approach to Drug Control in Canada — has adopted a public health model of psychoactive substance use that challenges the simplistic black-and-white construction of the binary (or complementary) antonyms “use” vs. “abuse”. This model explicitly recognizes a spectrum of use, ranging from beneficial use to chronic dependence (see diagram ).