Dependence and Addiction: Understanding Substance Abuse

Addiction vs Dependence

The Importance of Understanding Substance Abuse

Dependence and addiction are the most misused and misunderstood terms in the spectrum of drug use. Complete knowledge of the common terms associated with substance abuse is key to understanding the birth of the addict and the proper steps necessary for successful recovery.

For individuals with minimal awareness of drug abuse and its effects on society, it can sometimes be confusing to associate the variety of terms with their true meanings. The ability to recognize the differences between tolerance, dependence, and addiction can help break the stigma commonly associated with addicts and the disease.

Drug abuse has been considered one of the most misconstrued topics of discussion. But it has become one of the leading health issues in American society. Although drug and alcohol addiction is classified as a disease, social stigma regarding the issue still remains. People continue to point fingers at addicts, blaming them for becoming addicted to a substance. But, it’s controversies such as these push people away from taking an in-depth look at dependence and addiction.

What Is Physical Dependence?

When the user is dependent on a substance he is using to feel “normal”. The brain has adapted to the repeated use of drugs or alcohol to the point where a person cannot function properly without the substance. Dependence often leads to addiction, because the user will continue to abuse drugs or alcohol to avoid the side effects that come along with it. In the case that dependence does lead to addiction, it is often because addiction is pre-dispositioned in the individual.

Someone who is dependent on a drug or alcohol does not necessarily mean he is an addict. The dependence of a substance can even include non-narcotic and non-addictive drugs.

The causes of drug dependence vary. Sometimes the individual who becomes dependent isn’t taking a drug for its euphoric effects, instead, he could be using it to cope with mental illness or an injury unrelated to drugs or alcohol.

Addiction, however similar, pertains more to the behavior of the individual when a foreign substance enters his body.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction correlates to the compulsive behavior an individual engages in. There are many types of addiction, some unrelated to drug abuse. When a person feels “addicted” it is because the reward system in the brain is triggered when engaging in specific activities. Regarding substance abuse, a major side-effect someone will experience is the loss of control when trying to refrain from using the substance.

An addict, despite how destructive using becomes, will continuously engage in the use of a substance. This occurs from a multitude of factors such as:

  • Genetic makeup
  • Environment
  • Family history of addiction
  • Personality traits
  • Trauma
  • Mental health

According to several medical professionals, addiction is considered a disease —changes in certain brain functions after exposure to a substance, which is exactly what happens when an individual succumbs to addiction.

As addiction progresses, so does an individual’s tolerance to the drug they are abusing.

What Is Tolerance?

Tolerance is a person’s diminished response to a drug over a period of continued use. This constitutes the physical effects of drug abuse. Most people who abuse a substance for a long time, especially if physically dependent on the substance, do not react the same as when they first start using it. This may or may not lead to addiction based on the person’s disposition to the disease of addiction.

Tolerance is not designed for a single drug class. Narcotic or non-narcotic drug use will ultimately lead to tolerance development over extended use.

Drug tolerance relates to dependence and addiction due to its effects on the individual. For example, a heroin addict might aid in the progression of the disease simply by requiring more of the substance. In addition, someone taking anti-depressants (known to cause tolerance development) might aid in increasing their drug dependence.

Similarities Between Dependence and Addiction

Drugs that cause physical dependence and increased tolerance may or may not lead to addiction. However, dependence and addiction do go hand in hand. Physical dependence does not constitute involvement in addiction and vice versa. Though it can lead to addiction over time due to continued use. Although the physically dependent individual may not be suffering from addiction, they will experience some of the same side effects as an addict.

Withdrawal is the most common experience between both parties. Since the bodies of those affected are accustomed to a drug, withdrawal occurs when the substance is not internally present.

Another similarity between dependence and addiction is they are both medically treatable. Since there are minimal differences between dependence and addiction, they are treated almost identically. There are multiple routes an individual can take in order to combat his drug abuse.

How Dependence and Addiction Differ

There are some key differences between dependence and addiction. When an individual becomes dependent, his or her body will rely on the substance.

In contrast to the physiological nature of dependence, addiction refers to an individual being both physically as well as psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs, which has a number of implications. First, an addicted individual will have developed a tolerance to his substance of choice, requiring more of it to achieve the desired effects. The tolerance build-up for an addict and for the dependent is present but for the addict, he is using more to get the “high” feeling they initially experienced.

Additionally, the addict will experience withdrawal symptoms only a few hours after his last dose, resulting in the individual living in a constant state of fear of imminent withdrawal. While the dependent also experiences withdrawal, he will not react to it the same as the addict. The addict’s biggest fear is feeling sick from the lack of drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal for the dependent might just mean he no longer has an interest in the consumption of a drug he previously built a tolerance to. Only suffering minor side-effects due to the nonconsumption of the drug they are dependent on.

In short, addicts will not only feel physically compelled to continue abusing alcohol or drugs but will actually believe and feel as though they are unable to survive without the drug. Individuals who are dependent on a drug, will not feel the need to keep using it.

Do You Need Treatment?

Drug and alcohol treatment is the solution for anyone struggling with addiction or drug dependence. In both physical dependence and addiction, the individual will eventually experience withdrawal symptoms. Drug withdrawal is a large indicator of the individual needing to detox in a medical facility. The actions to follow vary depending on the severity of drug abuse. The signs of substance abuse will be clear with the newfound knowledge of drug dependence and addiction.

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