What is the Difference Between Dependence and Addiction?

It is common for friends and acquaintances to refer to someone who is abusing a substance as having an addiction or being drug dependent. Referring to someone in this manner is because the words addiction and dependence are frequently used synonymously when a person is abusing a substance and when a person has noticeable behavioral changes from increasing drug use. However, despite the synonymous usage of the two words, few differences exist between addiction and dependence.

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What is Drug Dependence?

The term “dependence” characterizes a person’s lack of physical and mental control brought on by abusing a drug. People are typically said to be drug dependent when they regularly take drugs and get physically reliant on them. Drug dependence is not necessarily an addiction, but a person with addiction shows signs of drug dependence.

It is sometimes difficult to state the difference between dependence and addiction. For instance, a patient taking painkillers prescribed to him may discover that he needs higher dosages for the drugs to be effective. Doctors can misdiagnose this as an increase in tolerance or the beginning of an addiction problem. Taking higher doses of the drug would ordinarily mean that the patient is now dependent on painkillers. 

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a term with multi-faceted usage. Concerning substance abuse, a person with addiction typically uses drugs or alcohol excessively regularly. An individual may suffer personally damaging effects from being subject to addiction. Addicts gradually begin to lose a range of things, including houses, jobs, and money, as well as their relationships with family, connections with friends, and dealings in a professional setting. Addicts have a distorted perspective of life and anticipate the next drug use and feeling of high.

Researchers in the field of substance abuse have discovered that an addict’s brain differs neurochemically from a healthy brain. Differences are also thought to exist between the brains of persons with addiction and dependence. When a person with drug dependence begins to use drugs to addictive levels, physiological changes begin to occur, and withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to stay off the drugs.

Researchers have also found that an admixture of deficiency with social skills and an individual’s genetic constitution can engender one toward an addiction. Perhaps, this is the basis for the common addiction among children of addicts. 

What is the Difference Between Dependence and Addiction?

In reality, addiction and dependence are only a little different as they share a lot of symptoms. The lack of will to disengage from taking a substance, despite the negative effects of the substance, is what defines addiction. Addicts usually find it difficult to fulfill their duties to their families, society, and employers. Typically, addicted people develop tolerance to their substance of abuse and suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance of abuse. The root cause of addiction is the chronic use of an addictive substance.

On the other hand, the classic sign of dependence is a physical reliance on a substance accompanied by signs of tolerance. A drug-dependent person has increased tolerance levels to a substance of abuse and requires increasing dosages to experience the effects of the substance. A person with dependence will also have severe withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using their substance of abuse. There would be withdrawal symptoms because their body will beg for more of the drug since it is already accustomed to the routine of drug use.

Meanwhile, some differences between addiction and dependence are that signs of dependence can be felt physically, whereas physical, emotional, and behavioral signs are evident in addiction. Also, a dependent individual is an addict. On the other hand, an individual dependent on a substance may not be, however, addicted to the substance. Furthermore, dependence frequently precedes addiction. In this light, it becomes crucial to identify the signs of addiction and dependence so that an individual is not wrongly classified into either class.  

How to Find Treatment for Addiction and Dependence to Drugs or Alcohol

Seven Arrows Recovery is a top-rated drug rehab center in Arizona.

We believe in the comprehensive treatment of the mind, body, and spirit. Our holistic approach guides clients to begin a fresh chapter in their lives. If you’re ready to create positive change in your life, we will help you every step of the way. We’re dedicated to achieving positive outcomes. Contact Seven Arrows Recovery today to learn more about how our program can help you overcome addiction or substance abuse.

Laura Harder, LAC, M.A.

About the Author:
Laura Bailey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Temple University in Philadelphia, and a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe. Laura has worked in community mental health and residential settings throughout New Mexico and Arizona since 2013. Laura has a passion for treating addiction, trauma, and co-occurring disorders.

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Clinical Director

Lindsay Rothschild LCSW, CCTP, SAP

Lindsay Rothschild is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Abuse Professional with a passion for assisting others in activating their own inner healing intelligence. She completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Arizona State University in 2011 and went on to study various ancient wisdom traditions for healing. Her training as a Clinical Trauma Professional and over a decade of experience working with trauma survivors has afforded her a rich understanding of the powerful impact of trauma on the mind, body and soul.

Lindsay studied holistic nutrition and trauma informed yoga at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. Lindsay is certified in the Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method™ and is also a registered yoga teacher. She most recently completed training in Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP). Lindsay partners with the Arizona Trauma Institute to facilitate trainings for mental health professionals and educators in the community in an effort to promote awareness around Trauma Informed Care. Lindsay is also the owner of Roots to Rise, PLLC where she provides somatic psychotherapy, EMDR therapy, supervision, trauma informed yoga, and substance abuse professional services. Lindsay describes herself as having a wild and free spirit, an open heart and a belief that all humans have the capacity for transformation and growth.

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Dr. Tracey Oppenheim MD

Dr. Oppenheim was born and raised in Michigan. She completed her medical school education, general and child and adolescent psychiatry training at the University of Michigan. Go Blue! She is passionate about the mind body spiritual connection and has completed additional training in integrative psychiatry. Dr. Oppenheim believes in each individual’s ability to heal through discovering their inner healing intelligence.