What is the Difference Between Addiction and Dependence?

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If you or someone you love is struggling with drugs or alcohol, you might regularly hear words like addiction and dependence thrown around, but what, if any, differences are there between these terms?

Both drug addiction and drug dependence are often used interchangeably, and sometimes they go hand in hand, but every situation is different, and every person struggles differently. Drug dependence can be mental or physical, while drug addiction means that that psychological or physical dependence has gotten so far out of control that you can’t stop yourself from taking more drugs and your body physically craves more drugs. Thankfully, there are ways that you can get help for both addiction and dependence. 

What is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is usually characterized by changes in behavior brought about by changes in your brain. These changes in your brain happen after continued drug use. Drugs change the way your brain functions and changes the way you behave. When you are addicted to drugs, using drugs becomes your biggest priority even if you know that they are harmful to you or that your use is hurting yourself or others. Drug addiction is usually manifested by irrational behaviors, especially if you don’t have drugs on hand. 

Drug addiction can be a mental and physical dependence on drugs.

What is Drug Dependence?

Drug dependence refers to a physical dependence on drugs. This is usually characterized by a high tolerance for the substances in question and severe withdrawal symptoms as soon as you stop using. You can be physically dependent on drugs without being addicted, but in most situations, if left untreated, drug dependence will very quickly become a drug addiction. 

For example, you might be prescribed opioids to help you manage the pain after an injury resulting from a car accident. The longer you take your prescription medication, the more your body relies on increasingly higher amounts of opioids to help you when the pain is high. But since your pain is related to your accident, driving is a trigger, and that means as you drive, you might feel an intense craving for those same opioids you use to manage your pain. As you become more and more dependent on opioids in stressful situations, when you are anxious or in pain, you might quickly find that you are willing to do anything to get more opioids. Nothing else seems to matter anymore, and when you don’t take them regularly, you show physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, headaches, insomnia, and vomiting.

How are Addiction and Dependence Related?

So what is the difference between addiction and dependence, and what are the similarities? Addiction and dependence are interrelated in that one can exist with the other and often exist simultaneously.

Mental and Physical Characteristics

Mental dependence happens after you have been conditioned to respond a certain way toward drug use. These are called triggers. Triggers literally trigger the desire to use drugs because they instigate biochemical changes in your brain, influencing the way you act. Triggers can include feeling anxious or nervous, which causes you to turn to drugs as a form of self-medication. Triggers can also include events like driving, places you have visited, or people around you. 

When you show symptoms of physical or mental dependents, that means you typically have a drug addiction. The biggest difference between addiction and dependence is that someone addicted to drugs is usually mentally and physically dependent and unable to stop themselves from getting and using. 

Finding Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Near Me

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and dependence, let Ocean Coast help you. We can help you overcome your mental and physical symptoms and cravings at any stage of dependence or addiction.

Our facility focuses on state-of-the-art drug and alcohol treatment programs located near Huntington Beach. We provide you with a supportive environment for recovery and individualized therapy and treatment plans. If you are ready to tackle addiction and dependence, we offer detoxification to help you manage your withdrawal, residential inpatient programs to help you treat substance abuse, and long-term recovery with comprehensive aftercare.
Let us help you along your path to recovery, whether you are struggling with addiction or dependence.

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