Addiction Vs. Dependence: Is There A Difference?

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Lindsey Blakley
Jul 02, 2021

It is time to explain the difference between drug addiction and drug dependence finally. Throughout history, the two terms have notoriously been used interchangeably. In reality, their definitions are noticeably different in a number of ways. Below is more information on addiction and dependence and the difference between the two. 

What Is Addiction?

Addiction occurs after prolonged and repetitive usage of an addictive drug or substance. It induces a chemical change in the brain that makes the person crave the drug more and more. The longer someone is addicted to a substance, the higher their tolerance and the greater the withdrawal symptoms. 

Drug addiction often causes a major toll on not only your health but your relationships, career goals, and ultimately your finances. However, once you are addicted to something, it becomes increasingly difficult to realize it on your own until you (most people) are near rock bottom. 

Because addiction alters the chemical balance in your brain, your entire perspective changes along with it. That’s why it’s difficult to realize you are addicted to something until a close friend or relative speaks up about the change they notice. More often than not, those closest to those struggling with addiction will realize the behavior first. They themselves aren’t addicted to the substance and can see the situation with a clear mind.  

Learn more about addiction

Common signs of addiction

Some common signs of addiction are: 

  • Using the substance or substances on a regular basis
  • It is probably all you can think about throughout the day
  • You start to prioritize your drug use around your daily life
  • You look forward to the next time you get to use
  • You only do things that involved using the drug
  • You use them to go to sleep or to wake up
  • You take or use the substance until you blackout
  • The only people you hang out with are people that use the substance too

Addiction affects more than just the person using the substance(s). It affects those closest to the person as well. It can even affect innocent civilians when that addiction leads to the person making the terrible decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence. 

If you or someone you know is addicted to illicit drugs, please never get behind the wheel of a car while using. 

What Is Dependence?

Dependence is a psychological habit or state of being rather than a disease. As mentioned, addiction results from a chemical change in the brain. Contrarily, dependence occurs when your body becomes used to feeling a certain way throughout the day. When you go a few days without the drug, you may experience symptoms of irritability or anxiety rather than the classic withdrawal symptoms. 

When someone is dependent on a drug and begins to show signs of addiction, that is when they start to experience physical withdrawal symptoms as well as mental. 

Common Signs of Dependence

Some common signs of drug dependence are: 

  • You use the drug enough that you now have to take more of it to feel the same effects
  • Whether you realize it or not, you experience changes in your normal behavior
  • Your weight begins to fluctuate
  • You sleep more often than usual or start to experience insomnia
  • You continue to use medication when you no longer need it or no longer have a prescription 
  • You stop attended events and hobbies you used to love
  • Your friend group dwindles or changes
  • Knowing your low on your drugs makes you feel anxious

So What Is the Difference?

It is true that in most cases of addiction, the person is also dependent on the drug and that most cases of dependency eventually lead to addiction. However, this isn’t always the case. They do not always coexist. 

For instance, it is possible for you to be addicted to a drug without feeling a physical dependence on it. It is also possible for someone to realize their dependency and to stop taking the drug before they become fully addicted to it. 

The good news is that you can reach out to drug treatment centers whether you are addicted or experience a dependency on a drug. It doesn’t matter. The staff is there to help those struggling regardless of the severity of the situation. 

Typically, the treatment is generally the same between addiction and dependency. Both require some form of slow detox with different levels of monitoring. Those struggling with drug dependence are more likely to go through outpatient treatment rather than inpatient. 

The terms often get used interchangeably, but there is a difference between addiction and dependence. Regardless of the severity of the abuse, it is crucial that anyone struggling with addiction or dependence reach out to a trusted professional and get the help they deserve. There are other, healthier avenues to take to subside particular ailments in your life. You don’t have to result to recreational drug use. Take the first step and reach out today! 

Lindsey is a full-time copywriter, editor, and mother with a passion for all things related to mental wellness and personal growth. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and e-books.

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