Addiction vs. Dependence

If you are struggling with substance abuse, your loved ones may use the words “addiction” and “dependence” interchangeably to describe your illness. It is understandable in their search to give you love and support they may not know the difference between dependence and addiction.

Although both terms relate to substance abuse, addiction and dependence are not the same conditions. Understanding can remove the line that often gets blurred and help you find the right treatment. Fortunately, there are substance abuse treatment centers that offer recovery programs.

Whether you are struggling with an addiction to or dependence on drugs, help is available.

Addiction vs. Dependence: What’s the Difference?

Continued abuse of controlled substances causes marked changes in brain chemicals. This leads to addiction, which is the inability to stop using alcohol or drugs even when facing harmful consequences.

For the person who is addicted, substance use becomes their priority. It is not uncommon for them to act irrationally without the substance of choice in their system. Meeting life obligations at home, work or school becomes difficult.

Chronic substance use that leads to addiction results in tolerance. Painful physical or mental withdrawal symptoms occur when the person stops using drugs.

Dependence is present when a person becomes physically reliant on their drug of choice. This person may have developed a high tolerance that requires higher dosages before they can feel the effects of a drug.

Stopping abruptly can also lead to acute withdrawal symptoms. Similar to addiction, chronic use causes the person’s body to crave more of the drug. While a person addicted to drugs can also become dependent, it is not the same for a drug dependency.

If you recognize yourself in either of these descriptions, reach out for help today.

Four Stages of Addiction

Addiction does not take control of a person’s life overnight. Instead, there are four stages of addiction a person experiences regardless of factors such as genetics, socioeconomic status and environmental influences.

  • Stage 1: Experimentation – The expectation that the initial use of drugs or drinking alcohol is a one-time occurrence.
  • Stage 2: Regular Use – Substance use becomes a common occurrence where the person believes quitting is easy.
  • Stage 3: High-Risk Use – Occurrences of substance use continues and increases despite severe consequences with loved ones, personal responsibilities and the legal system.
  • Stage 4: Addiction – This stage is not a question of addiction vs. dependence. Rather, symptoms form in the absence of the controlled substance, stopping seems unattainable and functioning in life is impossible without drugs or alcohol.

What is Drug Dependence?

Drug dependence largely influences your brain and central nervous system. Over time, repeated exposure to a drug causes the brain and body to adapt to that drug. How your body and brain functions become altered due to the drug’s presence in your system.

The disruption to the chemical balance in your brain means normal function is defined by the presence of the drug. Without help from substance abuse treatment services, drug dependence will continue to rule your life.

Symptoms of Drug Abuse or Dependence

The difference between dependence and addiction does not diminish the significance of symptoms that may occur with either condition. Although the types of symptoms may change based on the individual or substance, most people will experience:

  • Strong cravings to use their alcohol or drug of choice
  • Using large amounts of drugs or excessive drinking over extended periods of time
  • Spending extreme amounts of time to get, use or recover from drinking alcohol or taking drugs
  • Repeated attempts to cut down or stop using or drinking
  • Refusing to stop even when doing so hurts personal relationships
  • Interference of duties at home, work or school
  • Losing interest in beloved activities because of substance abuse
  • Risky behavior such as driving under the influence or having illicit sexual encounters
  • Strong withdrawal reactions when not using or drinking
  • Continued use throughout physical or psychological problems
  • The need for more alcohol or drugs when a tolerance diminishes the effects at the onset of use

Some of the symptoms associated with alcohol or drug abuse resemble psychiatric or medical conditions. Proper diagnosis by trained professionals is necessary to receive the right treatment.

How is Drug Abuse or Dependence Diagnosed?

Diagnosing abuse is not an addiction vs. dependence issue. Rather, a thorough evaluation that includes an assessment is necessary for both situations.

The medical team assigned to assess your substance use disorder may include a licensed substance abuse counselor, psychologist and doctor. They will evaluate for:

  • Abnormal blood pressure or heart rate
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Constant fatigue
  • Lab abnormalities
  • Red eyes
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight loss

Typically, the type of drug or alcohol that you use, frequency and length of time determine what is revealed.

Does Tolerance Lead to Dependence?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tolerance occurs when a person needs more alcohol or drugs before they experience the same effects that happened during their initial experience with the substance.

The line from tolerance to dependence is the same no matter the substance. Unfortunately, increased tolerance to alcohol or drugs also leads to higher chemical dependence. This dependence occurs because a person wants to continue what the feel from the substance.

Higher tolerance levels cause the cycle to continue because the person needs higher doses to feed their tolerance. Overdose can occur during this phase of substance abuse. Skilled counselors, medical practitioners and therapists are needed to help a person overcome their dependence.

Causes of Drug Abuse or Dependence

The causes that led to your drug addiction or dependence are as varied and complex as the substance that controls your life. However, there are some common issues that most people experience.

Trauma is one of those issues that can come from an accident, natural disaster, war, or sexual or physical abuse. Either one of these experiences can create long-term problems where drugs or alcohol seem like the only solution.

Experiencing trauma causes some people to use substances to self-medicate in an effort to avoid negative symptoms such as:

  • Anger
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of traumatic events
  • Fear
  • PTSD

Mental illness is another cause of drug or alcohol abuse. Whether depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, drugs or alcohol are used to lessen the effects of the symptoms. Unfortunately, all that happens is the mental illness gets worse.

Stress is a normal factor in the lives of most people. However, the extreme stresses of having financial problems or enduring a dysfunctional relationship can often lead to substance abuse as a way to escape.

The immediate goal is to relax and reduce the stress in a person’s life. Yet, chronic stress becomes worse when alcohol or drugs are introduced. Drug abuse has a cause and effect that can snowball out of control.

Alcohol Addiction

Substances Most Often Abused

Substances most often abused that lead to addiction or dependence includes:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Methamphetamine
  • Prescription medications (anxiety, pain or stimulants)

How Do I Know if I Need Help?

No matter how long you have been using drugs or alcohol, it can feel like addiction has taken over your life. A sure sign of this is how substance abuse affects your daily life. Constant occurrences of serious negative issues connected to use definitely indicate you need help.

Ask yourself any or all of the questions below to know if it is time to seek treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

  • Do I need a drink or drugs before getting up in the morning or going to bed at night?
  • Do I have withdrawal symptoms if I am unable to use?
  • Do I need more before I experience the same effects that I once did?
  • Have I tried harder drugs to get stronger effects?
  • Have the consequences of drug or alcohol use caused me to be suspended or fired from my job?
  • Have family, friends or coworkers talked to me about their concerns with my substance abuse?
  • Do I have financial troubles connected to my substance abuse?
  • Are there pending legal issues that I must address because of my drug or alcohol abuse?
  • How many times, if any, have I tried unsuccessfully to cut back or stop cold turkey?
  • Do I already know that I need help but have refused offers or to seek help on my own?

Answering yes to any of these questions means that you should seek help from a professional substance abuse treatment program.

Your Freedom to Begin Again Starts Now

Understanding the difference between dependence and addiction can guide you on the right path toward the right treatment. Long Island Treatment Center is here once you take that crucial first step.

We are here to discuss the recovery options available to ensure you get a fresh start. Our services include outpatient rehab, dual diagnosis, therapy and aftercare programs. Let us help you keep that promise to yourself.

Reach out to the Long Island Treatment Center staff today and learn more about our treatment services for addiction and dependence.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center