Is Physical Dependence the Same as Addiction?

Addiction is a complex disease marked by chronic and compulsive substance use despite negative consequences. Physical dependence, on the other hand, is when the brain physiologically changes as a result of substance use, requiring users to continue taking the drug to stave off withdrawal symptoms. While physical dependence is often a part of addiction, it is not a necessary symptom for one to be addicted to a drug.
Physical dependence and addiction act on two different areas of the brain. Addiction occurs as a disruption of the reward system in the brain, while physical dependence occurs as a result of the thalamus and brainstem. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “Thus, it is possible to be dependent on morphine, without being addicted to morphine. (Although, if one is addicted, they are most likely dependent as well.) This is especially true for people being treated chronically with morphine, for example, pain associated with terminal cancer. They may be dependent – if the drug is stopped, they suffer a withdrawal syndrome. But, they are not compulsive users of the morphine, and they are not addicted.” Most often, physical dependence occurs in coordination with addiction, and is a telling sign that an individual is addicted to a substance.
Physical dependence occurs as a result of chronic use of a drug. The NIDA explains, “the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal). Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs—including many prescription drugs, even if taken as instructed. Thus, physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction, but it often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be difficult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.” Therefore, overcoming addiction requires more than breaking one’s physical dependence. Detoxification is a necessary step toward recovery, but treatment that addresses all underlying causes of one’s addiction is necessary if an individual is to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety.

Your story doesn’t have to be one of suffering as a result of addiction. You can make the decision to seek help now and embark upon the rewarding journey of recovery. Oceanfront Recovery, located in beautiful Laguna Beach, is staffed with experienced and compassionate medical professionals dedicated to making the detoxification as comfortable as possible with the most care and attention paid to clients’ physical withdrawal symptoms with the appropriate use of medication and other support systems. For information about detox and other individualized treatment options, please call today: (877) 279-1777