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Addiction vs Dependence: What Is the Difference?

Drug DependenceThe terms addiction and dependence are often used in reference to substance-use disorders. Although some people use these words interchangeably, they have different meanings. Dependence refers to the body’s physical adjustment to a drug, and addiction refers to compulsive drug use accompanied by behavioral and physical changes. If you’re ready to address your substance use, it’s important to understand the difference between addiction vs dependence.

Dependence Defined

Dependence refers to the physical adaptation that occurs when you use the same substance over a long period of time. When you first start using the substance, you don’t need much of it to achieve a high. Over time, however, your body doesn’t respond to the substance the same way, so you need higher doses to achieve the same effects. Once you develop a dependence, it’s difficult to stop using because many substances cause harsh physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Dependence often develops in stages. The first stage is when you drink alcohol or use drugs infrequently. You may have a few drinks at a party or share some cannabis with friends, but you don’t “need” to use. Next, you may start using a substance on a regular basis. If you can’t access the substance, you may experience agitation or anxiety. The third stage is characterized by tolerance, which occurs when you no longer experience the same effects from taking the substance. Finally, you become dependent on the substance, which can cause both physical and psychological problems.

Addiction Defined

It’s possible to become dependent on a substance without being addicted to it. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health defines addiction as “problematic use of a substance” such as alcohol or an illicit drug. Addiction is typically characterized by the four Cs: craving, inability to control use, compulsion to use and continued use despite negative consequences. Therefore, the main difference between addiction vs dependence is that someone can be dependent on a substance without craving it, losing control over its use, feeling compelled to use the substance or continuing to use the substance even after experiencing negative consequences.

Signs and Symptoms of Dependence

Once you become dependent on a substance, you may notice that you don’t feel as good after taking a small dose. If you want to achieve the same high you usually do, you may have to take a larger dose of the substance. Some people take more frequent doses to experience the same pleasurable effects. If you’re dependent on a substance, you may also experience severe withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop using it. The effects vary based on the type of substance you use, but common withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating, shaking, muscle aches and abdominal pain.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Another key difference between addiction vs dependence is that addiction causes a wide variety of behavioral symptoms in addition to the physical symptoms. If you have developed an addiction to alcohol or another substance, you may experience cravings or feel unable to control your substance use. Some people sustain serious injuries while they are under the influence; still others experience blackouts after using.

Some of the behavioral signs of addiction may affect your romantic relationships, friendships and relationships with family members. One common sign of addiction is engaging in secretive behavior, especially if you’re working hard to hide your addiction from the people you love. It’s not unusual for someone with an addiction to alcohol or drugs to start spending more time alone to make it easier to hide the substance use.

Behavioral changes can also affect your performance at work or school. In a work setting, an addiction can make it difficult to keep track of your responsibilities. Once an addiction develops, you may have trouble making it to work on time, meeting deadlines or maintaining professional relationships with your colleagues, supervisors or clients. If you’re enrolled in classes, addiction can make it difficult to complete assignments on time. You may also find your grades slipping, especially if you frequently miss classes due to substance use.

Harmful Consequences of Addiction

Relationship problems aren’t the only negative consequence of addiction. Depending on what you use and when you use, you may find yourself in trouble with the law. For example, if you have an addiction to alcohol, you may be arrested for a drinking and driving offense. If convicted, you may have to pay fines or spend time in a local prison. Developing an addiction can also cause serious financial harm. If you’re spending a lot of money on alcohol or drugs, you may not have enough left to pay your bills. Addiction can also cause an individual to develop feelings of hopelessness, which can make it difficult to stay motivated enough to enter treatment.

valley recovery center agua dulce individual therapyTreatment Options

Although substance use can have serious consequences, you’re not alone. Treatment is available to help you overcome dependence or recover from addiction. If you have a drug or alcohol dependence, you may be able to take supportive medications to help you avoid some of the unpleasant symptoms associated with withdrawal. For example, medications are available to help control nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and abdominal pain. In some cases, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are used to treat the psychological effects of withdrawal.

Addiction treatment often involves residential rehabilitation or participation in a day rehabilitation program (“dayhab”) staffed by experienced professionals. When you first enter a residential program, you may have the opportunity to go through medical detoxification. During this process, you’ll be monitored by medical professionals who can prescribe supportive medications or other treatments to increase your comfort. Residential programs and day treatment centers offer a variety of services, including one-on-one counseling and peer group meetings, to help you develop healthy habits and learn how to cope with stress without turning to substance use. If you need help recovering from a substance-use disorder, contact Valley Recovery Center to find out the next step.

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