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Drug Addiction vs Drug Dependence – Is there a Difference?

Many misconceptions swirl around the terms drug addiction and drug dependence. The reason for this is because often, different organizations tend to use different definitions. They use these words interchangeably instead of giving you a clear explanation of what they each mean so that you can better understand them.


What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a biochemical change that is measured by a difference in one’s behavior after the continued use of a substance. Changes become visible when the continuous substance use turns into the main priority of the user. People who suffer from drug addiction tend to act irrationally regardless of the harm it could cause to themselves or those around them.


What is drug dependence?

Drug dependence is often confused with addiction though it refers to a physical dependence upon a certain substance. Doctors characterize it by the tolerance and withdrawal within the body. Though one could have a physical dependence without having a drug addiction the two usually go hand in hand.



Spotting the Difference Between ‘Abuse’ & ‘Dependence’ 

Now that we’ve given you a better understanding of what each term means, recognizing the signs will allow you to identify the people who need help. It’s important to remember that while drug dependence can be present without having an addiction it frequently leads to problems with addiction. So, recognizing the signs early will give you an opportunity to get to the root of the problem before it persists.

Here are a few things to be mindful of:

Addiction can have symptoms like strong uncontrollable cravings; dependence is not. Dependence occurs through an increasing physical tolerance to a substance which then leads to the body needing to rely on it after a while. Addiction can fall under more psychological behaviors such as strong mood swings. 

Drug dependence and substance addition are treated differently. Physical dependence on a substance often requires a more slow, tapering treatment whereas addiction to a substance often demands a more extensive treatment that includes detox, therapy, and inpatient programs for addiction.

They occur in separate parts of the brain. If you were to look at a scan of the brain on someone who suffers from physical dependence, it would show up in the thalamus. If you were to see a scan of someone who suffers from a substance addiction such as an addiction to alcohol it would appear in the ventral tegmental region along with the nucleus and the prefrontal cortex.


Recovering from drug addiction & physical dependence (or Recovery & treatment options)

Though it can be difficult to understand the difference between the two and recognize the signs, educating yourself about addiction recovery and physical dependence can go a long way in the process of recovery. If you or someone you know may be struggling with drug addiction, contact us today to learn more about our recovery programs and treatment options.

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