Many people confuse physical dependence with addiction. The two are actually very different phases of ongoing substance abuse. So how can you tell if you’re dependent or addicted?

Physical Dependence vs. Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol

woman with headache suffers from physical dependenceDependence is basically your body’s need for drugs or alcohol to prevent withdrawal. Before dependence began, your brain was able to produce enough natural chemicals to keep withdrawal from happening in absence of the substance you’re abusing. However, when you start developing a tolerance to the substance, your body is telling you that it’s no longer working with natural balance. Your brain adapts to the presence of the drug or alcohol and considers having the substance in its system as its new normal.

Tolerance means you have to increase your dose or frequency to gain the same substance effects. It also means that, when you don’t take your drug or drink as usual, your body will go into withdrawal. As your tolerance increases, it signals a physical dependence.

Ending Physical Dependence

Trying to break your body’s dependence alone is easier than ending addiction. To end dependence, you simply taper off the substance or go through withdrawal and walk away from it. Dependence doesn’t involve the psychological attachment to a substance, unlike addiction. The psychological attachment that comes with addiction usually leads to relapse if you don’t go through both detox and rehab.

Addiction also differs from physical dependence, in that addiction is a legitimate disease. An addiction involves cravings you can’t control, drug use you can’t quit, compulsive use of a drug and continuing to use despite knowing it’s wrecking your life. Cravings are the key to knowing your condition is an addiction and not simply physical changes of drug dependence.

Cravings are a symptom of your brain biology changing. For recovery, you must return your physical brain to normal functioning, as it was before addiction. To succeed in recovery, you need detox and rehab with a full array of therapies that help you reprogram your mind, behaviors and even your biology.

Even more confusing, physical dependence is usually part of addiction. But addiction isn’t always part of physical dependence.

Psychological Dependence

Full-fledged addiction is usually both physical and psychological. Your body is physically dependent and your mental need for the substance makes it impossible for you to quit on your own. This means you won’t just feel sick when you don’t use. You’ll also feel anxious, depressed and sleepless while experiencing major cravings.

Psychological dependence involves a desire for the pleasurable feelings of drugs or alcohol. The substance stimulates your brain’s pleasure center. Once you stimulate that part of the brain, you’ll repeat the drug use at almost any cost to feel good again.

You can develop a psychological addiction to just about anything, whereas you can’t become physically dependent on something unless it causes changes in your brain chemistry. Because of this, some drugs are more physically addictive than others. Marijuana is a good example of an addictive drug that is only psychologically addictive, not physically.

Overcoming Addiction, Both Physically and Psychologically

There are many terms to remember and understand when it comes to addiction. However, the bottom line of addiction is that you know in your gut if you have a drug or alcohol problem. Of course, you can try to deny your problem. But somewhere within yourself you know it exists.

When you’re ready to end your addiction to drugs or alcohol, 1st Step Behavioral Health in Pompano Beach, Florida can help you gain healthy, lasting recovery using an individual treatment plan. 1st Step Behavioral provides an array of therapies that help you get to the root of your addiction, including:

Call 1st Step Behavioral Health at 866-319-6126 for more information about available drug addiction treatment programs. You can take your first steps into recovery with the right support. For the support you need, call 1st Step now.