Dependence Vs. Addiction: Are They Really That Different?

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It is finally time to explain the difference between addiction and dependence. Throughout history, the two terms have notoriously been used interchangeably. In reality, their definitions are noticeably different in several ways. 

The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence in a Nutshell

Addiction vs. dependence can be explained in the following way. Addiction involves a shift toward harmful behavior and an irrational drive, whereas dependence is the body's physical response to substance use, whether or not addictive behavior is present. In other words, addiction is when a person’s behavior changes because of his/her repetitive substance use. An addict can behave irrationally when the substance to which they are addicted is not readily available. On the other hand, dependence is when the individual experiences withdrawal and/or tolerance symptoms to the drug. 

Avenues Recovery provides more information on the two and the difference between being dependent and addicted. 

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 chemical changes in the brain that lead to addiction are induced by triggers. Addiction triggers include specific settings, people, actions, or emotions that lead an individual to feel the need to use drugs. Addiction leads to a physical and mental dependence on the substance(s). The longer someone is addicted to a substance, the higher their tolerance and the greater the withdrawal symptoms. 

Drug addiction often takes a major toll on not only your health but also 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 aren’t addicted to the substance and can see the situation with a clear mind.


Common Signs of Addiction

Some common characteristics of addiction are:

  • Using the substance or substances regularly
  • It is 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 the substance
  • You only do things that involve using the drug
  • You use drugs 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
  • You have a hard time fulfilling your obligations to family, work, and the community. 

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.

What Is Dependence?

Dependence refers to the body's physical response to substance abuse, involving a physiological adaptation to a substance that can lead to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Unlike addiction, which encompasses neurological changes and involves a shift towards harmful behavior and irrational pursuit, dependence primarily focuses on the body's physiological adjustments to consistent substance use. It may occur independently of addictive behavior, where the body becomes accustomed to a substance, developing tolerance and requiring higher doses for the same effect.

The difference between tolerance vs. dependence is that unlike tolerance, which focuses on how much of the substance you need to feel its effect, physical dependence happens when your body starts to rely on the drug.

When someone is dependent on a drug and begins to experience physical withdrawal symptoms as well as mental symptoms, he/she is showing signs of addiction.


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 attending events and hobbies you used to love
  • Your friend group dwindles or changes
  • Knowing you are low on your drugs makes you feel anxious

Addiction Vs. Dependence: Why Does it Matter to Know the Distinction?

Although the differences between addiction and dependence are not so large, there is enough to distinguish between chemical dependence vs. addiction. 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, you can 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. There is a difference between mental or physical dependence vs. addiction, and it is important to remove the stigma. People who are no longer addicted to drugs yet are still receiving medication treatment for substance use disorder should not need to be labeled as addicted when their behavior towards drugs has changed so drastically. Misdiagnosis can have detrimental effects and therefore should be avoided as much as possible.

The Terminology Used by the DSM Today

In 1964, the World Health Organization [1] considered eliminating the word “addiction” and substituting it with “dependence.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) claims that “addiction” is not specific enough and it carries a negative connotation. Instead, the DSM-IV characterized addiction as “substance abuse” and “substance dependence.” The differentiation was that substance dependence is a more intense form of substance abuse and occurs at a later stage. The more a person abuses substances, the more likely he/she is to develop a dependence on them. 

In 2013, the terms “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” were replaced with the term, “substance use disorder.” Substance use disorder [2] can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. The intention behind this terminology to describe addiction is because it includes both dependence and addiction under one umbrella while not ignoring the difference between dependence and addiction. 

Treatment Options for Dependence vs. Addiction

The good news is that you can reach out to drug treatment centers whether you are addicted or experiencing 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 the same for 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. 

When people identify the differences between addiction vs. dependence, they can get a clearer picture of what addiction and treatment for addiction entail. Regardless of the severity of the abuse, anyone struggling with addiction or dependence must 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 resort to recreational drug use.


Recover from Your Addiction or Dependence at Avenues Recovery

Although there are differences between drug dependence vs. addiction, know that regardless of what category you fit in, Avenues Recovery is here for you. We offer a variety of treatment programs that are individualized to help you come out of your addiction. Take the first step and reach out today. Your path to recovery begins with us!





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