Addiction Vs. Dependence: What’s The Difference?

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Addiction and chemical dependence are often used to describe substance use disorder, but both terms technically represent different facets of the disorder. However, addiction can be used interchangeably with substance abuse.

Addiction Vs. Dependence: What’s The Difference?

Addiction and chemical dependence, or chemical dependency, are commonly used to describe substance use disorder (SUD), a diagnosable mental disorder.

Although addiction is often used interchangeably to refer to SUD, dependency is not.

In general, addiction refers to the mental health aspects and associated behaviors often exhibited due to SUD, especially a strong urge to use substances regardless of risks or consequences.

Substance dependence refers to a physical reliance on drugs or alcohol. Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms are side effects when the body becomes physically reliant.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between drug addiction and drug dependency.

What Is Addiction?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) uses four categories of symptoms for diagnosing SUD or addiction.

These four categories are:

  • impaired control
  • physical dependence
  • social problems
  • risky use

Addiction occurs when a person compulsively uses drugs or alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences. People with addictions have difficulty stopping their substance use.

Loss of control is a major component of addiction. Thus, addiction is also characterized by using more of a substance than planned, or using the substance for longer than intended.

When a person has an SUD, drugs or alcohol take center stage in their lives, often becoming a priority over work, family, friends, and prior enjoyments.

Addictive Behaviors

Addiction is considered a mental health disorder because it affects thinking and behavior. Substance abuse alters the brain’s pathways that are responsible for self-control, stress, and reward-seeking.

Cravings drive addictive behaviors. Cravings can be activated by situational or mental triggers.

Often, the longer a person lives with an addiction, the more pronounced their negative consequences become.

The 4 Cs Of Addiction

Addiction can also be thought of in four components, otherwise known as the four Cs of addiction.

The 4 Cs of addiction are:

  • cravings
  • compulsion to use
  • loss of control regarding amount or frequency of use
  • using despite consequences

Signs Of Addiction

Substance use disorders can take a toll on a person’s behavioral health. The signs of addiction can be obvious to others, but not always.

Signs of addiction may include: 

  • using substances despite negative consequences
  • obsessive thoughts about acquiring and/or using a substance
  • inability to stop using substances despite attempts to do so
  • efforts to hide substance use
  • legal troubles due to substance abuse
  • spending money on substances instead of essentials
  • increased isolation
  • mental health issues, such anxiety, depression, and feelings of emptiness

What Is Chemical Dependence?

Dependence can occur as a result of addiction. Substance dependency pertains to physical symptoms, including tolerance and withdrawal, that suggest a physical reliance on a substance to perform regularly.

Not everyone with an SUD will experience dependency. However, side effects of dependency can start as soon as the first time a drug is consumed.

Some drugs, like cocaine, opioid painkillers, and certain prescription drugs, have a higher rate of dependency. Smoking or injecting a drug is also associated with greater dependency.

Dependency And Tolerance

Tolerance is a characteristic of substance dependency. Tolerance is the need to consume greater amounts of drugs or alcohol, and more often, to achieve the same desired effect.

When a person regularly uses drugs or alcohol, the body learns to anticipate the substance and essentially accommodates for it.

When a person’s tolerance increases, this signifies that the body has adapted to delivery of the substance, so greater amounts are needed to experience the same initial effects.

Dependence And Withdrawal

Once a person develops a substance dependency, they may experience uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance.

Symptoms of withdrawal may include:

  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • muscle pains
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • anxiety
  • paranoia
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • seizures
  • feelings of impending doom

Withdrawing from some substances, like opioids, is physically and mentally taxing but not life-threatening.

However, withdrawing from other substances, like alcohol or benzodiazepines, can be deadly.

To ensure a safe and successful withdrawal process, it is often recommended to seek professional care. Detox centers can provide medically supervised detox, as can many addiction treatment centers.

Signs Of Substance Dependence

A person who is dependent on drugs or alcohol may exhibit telltale signs.

Signs of dependency may include:

  • needing greater amounts of drugs or alcohol to experience the same effects
  • panicking over access to drugs or alcohol
  • experiencing physical symptoms, such as shaking and sweating, if unable to obtain the substance
  • experiencing blackouts

Understanding Mental Addiction Vs. Physical Dependence

It is possible to be mentally addicted to but not physically reliant on a substance. It is also possible to be both mentally addicted and physically reliant.

If a person is addicted mentally but not physically dependent, continued drug use will increase their risk of physical dependency. Dependence can make it more difficult to overcome an SUD.

Overcoming addiction requires a focus on both the mental and physical aspects of the disorder. Many inpatient and outpatient treatment options support both components of recovery.

When a person enters a treatment center, physical dependency is addressed first. However, long-term recovery depends on the management of the mental health aspects of addiction.

This may involve individual, family, or group therapy, plus medication-assisted treatment (MAT), peer support, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, and more.

Find Freedom From Substance Abuse Today

Addiction is a treatable mental health condition. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, call for help today.

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
(888) 859-4403

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