Alcohol Detox: Addiction vs. Dependence

Last Updated: Sep 20th 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

There’s often a lot of confusion around the topic of addiction. Things can get especially difficult to understand when it comes to the “addiction vs. dependence” debate. Most of the time, people are a little unsure about the difference between the two. Some even wonder if there’s a difference at all.

Maybe the confusion comes in because of the fact that the two terms are often used interchangeably. Many times, people refer to physical dependence as addiction and vice versa. But, truth be told, there are actually a few major differences between the two. These dissimilarities are certainly important to consider when it comes to substance use treatment.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering if dependence and addiction are two different things. Now that you know that they are definitely not the same, let’s talk about the ways in which they’re different and the importance of addressing each problem with these distinctions in mind.

Addiction vs. Dependence: Why All the Confusion?

For years, people have been referring to substance use disorder (SUD) using the generalized term of addiction. If someone struggles with an alcohol or drug use problem, people might assume that the individual has an addiction.

According to the Addiction Center, some treatment facilities have decided not to use the term “addiction” at all. This might be due to the belief that the word “carries too much negative connotation and is ambiguous”.

In order to eliminate that stigma, people have resorted to using the word “dependence” instead. But, of course, this has lead to confusion regarding the definition of addiction versus the definition of substance dependence.

Eventually, though, the phrase “substance use disorder” began to circulate as an alternative to “addiction”. Still, it’s evident that there is still a bit of confusion when it comes to dealing with these two topics.

When people think of the phrase “substance dependence”, they often think of it as a synonym of the word “addiction”. It would seem that, if a person depends on something, that individual is addicted to the substance. But, this most certainly is not the case.

Many individuals often become confused by the use of these varying terms because some treatment centers may opt to use one term while others will choose alternate terms. Some facilities refer to addiction using the word “dependence”, making it difficult to identify the true definitions between these terms.

The Importance of Acknowledging the Differences

So, why is it so important to pay attention to the dissimilarities between addiction and physical dependence? What’s the big deal? Is it really necessary to differentiate the two?

Well, when getting treatment for a substance use problem, it’s extremely important that your treatment center focuses on your individual needs. The best way to identify a good solution is to accurately identify the problem.

If you are suffering from an opioid dependence problem, you’ll need different treatment than someone who is struggling with an alcohol addiction problem.

So, in short, yes; it’s very necessary to understand and address the ways in which addiction and dependence differ in order to successfully treat those who are dealing with either of these problems.

What is Dependence and How Does it Develop?

When a person uses a drug for a while, even if the substance is medically prescribed, the body might start to get used to the way the drug affects it. Even if the person is using the drug as directed by his or her doctor, the individual’s body might build a tolerance for that substance.

Generally, it doesn’t take an extremely long time for people to develop substance dependence. In some cases, it can take just 6 months of regular and continuous use. As a person’s tolerance for a drug begins to increase, withdrawal symptoms begin to enter the scene, too.

This means that individuals who may stop using a drug that they’ve been using for a while, they will start to feel uncomfortable and feel the need to use the drug again in order to get a sense of normality back.

Tolerance and withdrawal are the two main factors that identify a dependence problem. And one important detail to note is that it’s definitely possible to be dependent on a substance without being addicted to it.

What is Dependence and How Does it Develop?

Addiction is different from dependence in the sense that this particular drug use problem is characterized by more compulsive drug use habits. People who are suffering from an addiction problem often experience major cravings and urges to use or drink.

Often, these uncontrollable cravings lead individuals to use drugs or alcohol “despite harmful consequences”, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states. Addiction is the inability to stop using drugs or alcohol and it often causes major problems in various areas of people’s lives.

Sometimes, people who are dealing with addiction problems have a hard time focusing on the important matters in life, including work responsibilities, schoolwork, family, friends, and much more.

Addiction also causes many emotional and physical consequences. It can lead to depression, isolation, and intense feelings of fear. Many drug addictions cause heart, liver, and brain damage.

Since addiction is also characterized by tolerance and withdrawal, it’s safe to say that many of the people who suffer from addiction also have dependency problems.

Getting Treatment for Your Struggle

As we mentioned earlier, it’s very important to seek help for your specific struggle. If you are dealing with a dependence problem, your treatment program should focus on helping you to work through withdrawal and live without having to use a substance.

If you are living with drug or alcohol addiction, your treatment program should deal specifically with the addiction as well as any underlying problems.

It’s best to seek professional guidance in figuring out exactly what your struggle is and how to approach that particular struggle. If you need help identifying and overcoming a drug or alcohol use problem in your life, the team here at 1st Step Behavioral Health can help you!

Just contact us today by calling (866) 319-6126.

References:

https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-vs-dependence/

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence

https://www.hss.edu/conditions_understanding-addiction-versus-dependence.asp

http://www.naabt.org/addiction_physical-dependence.cfm

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.

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