Dependence vs Drug Addiction
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Dependence vs Drug Addiction: Do I Need Addiction Treatment?

Addiction is a very complicated, almost enigmatic disease that we’re only recently beginning to understand. It wasn’t too long ago that the consensus was that addicts were simply being willfully selfish and self-destructive. In short, they were merely being bad people and having a problem with alcohol or drugs was seen as a moral affliction. As a result, substance abuse was widely criminalized. 

Fortunately, we have a much more enlightened understanding of addiction today, but we’re still peeling back the layers and trying to get to the center of the disease. By better understanding it, we can develop more effective ways of treating it and potentially even prevent it. One of the things that we’ve learned is that, much like the many things to which a person can become addicted, there are actually different levels or stages of addiction.

The simplest way to differentiate the various stages of problematic substance abuse would be to say that they range from the least severe to the worst severe; however, labeling a form of substance abuse as not being severe might imply that an individual suffering from that level of substance abuse wouldn’t be in need of treatment, which isn’t always the case. Moreover, there are many different terms used to describe problematic substance abuse such as dependence and addiction, which are often used to distinguish different levels of severity. Therefore, the following will define dependence, comparing it to addiction to help individuals understand substance abuse severity and determine when they are in need of treatment.

What Exactly Is Dependence?

To understand where dependence lies on the spectrum of substance abuse severity, it’s important to conceptualize how an addiction develops. The first step toward becoming an addict requires the individual to abuse alcohol or drugs. After enjoying the intoxication, the individual enters a period of increasingly frequent substance abuse. As the substance abuse continues, the individual eventually reaches the point of dependence. Dependence usually refers to physical dependence although one will also become psychologically dependent as well. However, physical dependence is when an individual’s body has adapted to frequent substance abuse and begins relying on alcohol or drugs, even for natural processes. In short, it refers to the physiological effects of habitual substance abuse with the body coming to rely on the alcohol or drugs.

Abusing alcohol or drugs causes a spike in neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin; after continuous spikes in these neurochemicals, the brain begins producing far less dopamine and serotonin on its own, relying on the individual’s substance abuse as the primary source. It’s also at the dependency phase that an individual begins to experience withdrawal symptoms after only brief periods without alcohol or drugs. Having become deficient in dopamine and serotonin, an individual dependent on alcohol or drugs will begin feeling immense physical discomfort that’s often compared to symptoms of the fly; common withdrawal symptoms include hot flashes and/or cold chills, sweating, physical pain in muscles and joints, anxiety, and nausea. However, when the dependent individual consumes the substance to which he or she has become dependent, the withdrawal symptoms will subside as the dependency has been satisfied.

Dependence vs. Drug Addiction: What Is the Difference?

There are some key differences between dependence and addiction. When an individual has become dependent, his or her body has come to rely on the substance that he or she has been abusing. As explained above, much of this has to do with the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain. After coming to physically need to abuse alcohol or drugs, an individual will begin to experience negative symptoms after a period of several hours without his or her substance of choice, which is called withdrawal. However, this dependence quickly becomes psychological as well, spurred by the mental or emotional processes that become involved in an individual’s substance abuse. Alternately, an individual can become psychologically dependent before becoming physically dependent as is the case when an individual habitually abuses alcohol or drugs as a means of coping with stress, hardship, or negative emotions.

In contrast to the physiological nature of dependence, addiction refers to an individual’s being both physically as well as psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs. This has a number of implications. First, an addicted individual will have developed a tolerance to his or her substance of choice, requiring more of it to achieve the desired effects. Additionally, the addict will experience withdrawal symptoms only a few hours after his or her last dose, resulting in the individual living in a constant state of fear of imminent withdrawal. While experiencing these physical effects of addiction, the individual also experiences psychological effects. The fear of withdrawal is attributed to the psychological side of addiction as well as feeling unable to cope with stress or even just day-to-day life. In short, addicts will not only feel physically compelled to continue abusing alcohol or drugs, but they actually believe and feel as though they are unable to survive without the drug.

How to Tell When You Need Treatment

Although there is a distinction to be made between dependence and addiction, it would be inaccurate to say that being dependent rather than addicted means an individual doesn’t need treatment. In fact, whether an individual is dependent on or addicted to alcohol or drugs, he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms without his or her substance of choice, indicating the need for treatment and, in particular, detox treatment. The difference in treatment needs for someone dependent versus someone addicted is that the dependent individual may possibly require a slightly less intensive and shorter treatment program while the addict will require a longer period of more intense treatment.

Call Us Today to Begin the Journey to Happiness & Health

Finding the right treatment program for one’s specific needs isn’t always easy. It’s a very personal process that often requires the expertise of individuals who really know the recovery process inside and out. That’s where we come in. At Drug Treatment Center Finder, our goal is to match anyone suffering from addiction to the program that best addresses his or her needs. For a free consultation and assessment with one of our recovery specialists, give us a call now at 1-855-619-8070. Your happiness and health are just one phone call away.