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People often group addiction and dependence together or use them interchangeably when explaining substance use issues. While addiction and dependence can and often do occur together, these terms describe different conditions. 

It is essential to recognize that, although dependence can happen without addiction, addiction may imply that an individual is dependent on a chemical substance. Understanding what sets addiction and dependence apart can better help you and your loved ones recognize the severity of substance misuse.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction from alcohol or drugs is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior and continued substance use despite the harmful consequences it may cause. Addiction is a lifelong condition that causes significant alterations to the brain and how it functions. 

There are several reasons why some people experience addiction and some do not. The three general factors that increase an individual’s risk of developing an addiction include genetics, environment, and their drug of choice. 

Understanding Dependence: Physical and Psychological

Although there is an issue with using the terms dependence and addiction interchangeably, another issue surrounds the understanding of dependence in general. 

When people refer to drug or alcohol dependence, they most likely refer to the significant physical sensations that urge an individual to use substances repeatedly. It is crucial to understand that dependence is not merely physical; it can also be psychological or a combination of the two. 

The physical and psychological experiences of drug dependence can be challenging to separate, as most of the time, the aspects are closely related. In general, physical dependence is a condition where a person becomes dependent on substance use in order to feel normal. It is most noticeable when unpleasant withdrawal symptoms arise due to abruptly stopping substance use or taking a substance in smaller doses than normal. 

On the other hand, psychological dependence describes the mental and emotional processes associated with chronic, persistent substance use. Examples of psychological dependence include:

  • Substance cravings
  • Inability to control anxiety or depression when not using substances
  • Mood swings, irritability, or restless occurring when not using substances
  • Changes in appetite or sleep when not using substances
  • Obsessive thoughts over obtaining or using substances
  • Denial over chronic substance use
  • Romanticizing or glorifying past substance use

The Differences Between Addiction and Dependence

When people refer to dependence, they recognize an individual’s physical or emotional dependence on a substance. While it is possible to have physical dependence without having an addiction, dependence can act as a cue that addiction may be developing. 

There are situations where a person has an addiction but may not experience intense physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms that a person with a substance dependence would. What sets addiction apart from dependence is that addiction is behavioral rather than an innate physical or psychological response. 

For example, many people cling to the belief that marijuana is not an addictive substance. Researchers and substance use professionals may argue that it is an addictive substance because it can produce psychological withdrawal symptoms. A more accurate argument would be that marijuana is addictive. When people begin to regularly use the substance, they may struggle to stop using it even when it interferes with other aspects of their lives. 

Ultimately, marijuana is addictive because it can produce behavioral motivations to use. On the other hand, marijuana can cause dependency because it can produce distressing symptoms of psychological withdrawal.

Navigating Alcohol & Drug Dependence or Addiction

Regardless of the condition, both addiction and dependence can cause devastating long-term consequences for the individuals struggling with substance use as well as their loved ones. Medical detox will likely be recommended for those struggling with severe symptoms of withdrawal, a step that must be completed before treatment can begin. 

There are several treatment program options available for anyone struggling with substance dependence, addiction, or co-occurring mental health conditions. There are both inpatient (residential) programs as well as outpatient programs to consider. Generally, the greater the severity of psychological or physical distress, the more likely a person should consider an inpatient program as it allows an individual to fully commit themselves to their recovery for a specified period of time. Oppositely, outpatient services allow individuals to continue about their daily lives and attend treatment on a more flexible schedule. 

The topic of addiction and dependence is one of the many topics covered in psychoeducation, which is critical to any treatment experience. Psychoeducation is critical for an individual’s recovery journey because it helps you uncover more about yourself while exploring the relationship between science and substance use. 

It is common for people to understand addiction and dependence to be the same thing, although each term describes different conditions. Addiction is compulsive behavior surrounding seeking and using substances, whereas dependence occurs when a person becomes physically or psychologically dependent on a substance to feel normal. While these conditions often occur together, dependence does commonly occur without an addiction present. West Coast Recovery Centers believes that, while both terms represent different conditions, both conditions can cause significant consequences to an individual’s physical and mental well-being. We know that addiction and substance use can be chronic and persistent, making it overwhelming to manage. That’s why we offer several treatment programs alongside numerous therapy modalities to help curate individualized treatment plans for our clients. No two clients go through the exact same substance use journey, therefore, no two people should go through the same exact addiction treatment. Call us today to learn more at (760) 492-6509.

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