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Difference between Drug Dependence and Addiction

Drug dependence and addiction are related but distinct concepts in substance abuse. ​When talking about addiction versus dependence, it is important to understand the distinction between addictive behavior and physical reliance.

Navigation: Difference between Dependence and Addiction, What is Physical Dependence?, What is Drug Addiction?, What are the Most Common Withdrawal Symptoms?, What are the Causes of Drug Abuse?, Treatment for Drug Addiction and Dependence, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


It can be tricky to recognize the difference between dependence and addiction. It’s not something you can just detect by looking at someone. Although the terms drug dependence and drug addiction are often used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. Both of them refer to the long-term effects of prolonged substance abuse. However, they each represent a distinct way in which substance abuse disorder affects the person’s mind and body.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with either condition, you need to understand these differences.

Addiction is just one way substance abuse disorders can affect people. Substance dependence is a different thing entirely, and here we’re going to take a closer look at both of them so you can support your loved one who is struggling with it.


Difference between Dependence and Addiction

Drug dependence and addiction are related but distinct concepts in substance abuse. ​When talking about addiction versus dependence, it is important to understand the distinction between addictive behavior and physical reliance.

Drug dependence refers to a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of a drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if the drug is discontinued. It can be physical or psychological in nature.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a behavioral disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite negative consequences. Addiction involves psychological dependence, but also encompasses other factors such as impaired control over drug use and continued use despite harm to oneself or others.

In summary, drug dependence is a biological state while addiction is a complex, multi-faceted behavioral and psychological condition.

It is possible to develop drug dependence without being addicted, but dependence often signals that addiction is about to develop. It also goes the other way around. It is possible for an addicted individual to eventually develop physical dependence.

Both conditions can cause physical symptoms. It is also common for these two conditions to co-occur with certain mental disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. This is why a lot of people have to go through a dual diagnosis treatment program that addresses both their addiction and their mental health disorder.


What is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence is the body’s reaction to the constant presence of certain drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug dependence involves having the body adapt to the drug or medication.

This normally occurs when a person uses a drug or medication for an extended period. Using the drug leads to tolerance, which means the person has to take greater dosages just to experience the same effects.

If they suddenly stop the drug or even just reduce their intake, their body goes through withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms may range from mild to severe. It is usually a very uncomfortable and painful experience. This is why most people who are drug dependent simply relapse after a period of abstinence.

As you can see, physical dependence is not the same as with addiction despite their close connection. There is an overlap between the two conditions, but they are far from synonymous.

What is Drug Addiction?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), substance abuse is the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances. This includes illicit drugs and alcohol. The use of these substances can have a negative impact on the person as well as the people around them. But an addicted person will keep abusing the substance anyway despite the consequences.

Addiction is a medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of a certain substance. They will take the drug recklessly with no regard for their health and safety. This will get in the way of their social obligations as well as their relationships with other people.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes addiction as “an inability to stop using a drug.”

While addiction may sometimes involve dependence, it is not exactly the same. The real defining factor is that you are taking the drug regardless of the consequences. It has a lot to do with cravings and a loss of self-control. Even if you want to quit, you feel like you cannot.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes substance abuse as a problematic pattern of drug use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress.

So to summarize, drug addiction is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences. It is a brain disorder that changes the way the brain perceives pleasure, making drugs more desirable, and leading to a strong urge to use them.

Over time, this behavior can become so strong that it interferes with a person’s ability to function in daily life, causing significant harm to their relationships, work, health, and overall well-being.

Also known as substance use disorder, drug addiction is a disease that affects a person’s brain and influences their behavior. It leads to the compulsive use of drugs both legal and illegal. Anyone can develop an addiction regardless of age, gender, or race. It can also develop for any number of reasons from recreational drug use to the misuse of prescription medications. Some drugs have a higher risk of causing addiction than others.

Any attempt to stop taking drugs will lead to intense cravings. The addicted person feels like they cannot function normally without it. As time passes, it becomes more and more difficult to stay away from the drug.

What are the Most Common Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a drug dependent person stops taking the drug or reduces their intake. Withdrawal symptoms may vary depending on a number of factors such as the type of substance taken, the person’s age, physical health, mental state, gender, family history of substance abuse, etc.

Here are the most common withdrawal symptoms: anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, insomnia, tremors, shaking, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, runny nose, chills, depression, mood swings, fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, and cramps. In some cases, drug withdrawal can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, confusion, disorientation, and seizures.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the substance used, the duration of use, and the method of withdrawal. It is always recommended to seek medical attention before attempting to quit any substance because some drugs cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms may last for a few days or weeks, but they will stop after some time. To ensure the person’s safety during this time, you need to seek professional help.

Being familiar with the symptoms of withdrawal can make quitting easier for you since you know how important it is to go through proper medical detox.

What are the Causes of Drug Abuse?

There is no single cause of drug abuse, and it often results from a complex interaction of genetic, environmental, and individual factors. Some common causes include: genetics, mental health, environmental factors, trauma, stress, lack of education, and availability of drugs.

Drug abuse has a genetic factor. In fact, it is one of the biggest factors involved in a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted. A person’s genes may make them more or less susceptible to addiction. If you have a family history of addiction or dependence, you have a higher risk of developing these conditions yourself at some point in your life.

Drug abuse and addiction also have a close connection with a person’s mental health. Individuals with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD may turn to drugs as a form of self-medication.

The person’s environment can also influence their relationship with drugs and alcohol. People growing up in stressful home environments are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Another environmental factor is peer pressure.

Speaking of stressful environments, a person’s career choice may affect their chances of getting addicted. First responders and other people in professions that are constantly exposed to danger are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to cope with their stress and trauma.

Traumatic experiences are also included in the list of risk factors. Exposure to traumatic experiences like physical or sexual abuse can increase the risk of drug abuse. Other life changing events like grief or loss can also make a person more susceptible to addiction.

People with limited access to information about drugs and their effects may be more likely to engage in drug abuse. Having easy access to drugs and alcohol can also increase the likelihood of drug abuse.

The more risk factors a person has, the more likely it is that they will become addicted at some point in the future. This is not a guarantee, however. It only reflects the chances of developing addiction. A person exposed to multiple risk factors may still be able to steer clear of addictive substances.

It is important to note that these factors often interact with each other, and the reasons for drug abuse can vary greatly from person to person.

Treatment for Drug Addiction and Dependence

Whether it’s substance addiction or mental dependence, you need to seek treatment if you are dealing with substance use disorders. Continued substance abuse can lead to disastrous consequences, not only on a person’s physical and mental health, but also their relationships with other people. In fact, addiction can affect most aspects of a person’s life.

The following are the treatment options for drug addiction and dependence:

Detoxification: The first step in treating drug addiction is detoxification, which helps the individual rid their body of any toxic substances. This process can be done in a medical setting or at home.

Medications: There are medications available to help individuals with drug addiction. For example, methadone is used to treat heroin addiction, while buprenorphine is used to treat opioid addiction.

Behavioral Therapies: Behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management have been shown to be effective in treating drug addiction.

Support Groups: Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide individuals with a community of people who understand their struggles and can offer support and encouragement.

Residential Treatment: For individuals who have a severe drug addiction, residential treatment programs can be an effective option. These programs provide round-the-clock care and support to help individuals recover from addiction.

Aftercare: Aftercare is an important part of the recovery process. This may involve continued participation in support groups, attending therapy sessions, and taking medications as prescribed.

It’s important to note that recovery from drug addiction and dependence is a lifelong process and requires commitment and hard work. But with the right treatment, support, and resources, individuals can successfully overcome their addiction and reclaim their lives.

Look for an addiction treatment center near you today and get started on the road to long-lasting sobriety.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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