What is Addiction vs. Dependence?

The difference between addiction and dependence can be difficult to understand. Some organizations have different definitions and may even abandon these terms because ‘substance use disorder’ is being used more frequently. However the terms are used, addiction and dependence are key terms in understanding how a person comes to struggle with substance use.

Addiction

Addiction demonstrates itself through a change in behavior caused by the biochemical changes in the brain following continued substance abuse. Substance use becomes the main priority of the person with addiction, regardless of harm they cause self or others. An addiction causes people to act irrationally when they do not have the substance to which they are addicted in their system. Addiction taxes mental, physical, and spiritual systems all at the same time.

Mental Dependence vs. Physical Dependence

Mental dependence is when use of a substance is a conditioned response to an event or feeling. These triggers can be emotional responses to events, people, places, or anything associated with using a substance. Something like driving can trigger desire to use. These triggers set off biochemical changes in a person’s brain that strongly influence addictive behavior. When symptoms of mental and physical dependence are apparent, an addiction is usually present. The main characteristic is one that distinguishes addiction from dependence regarding uncontrollable behavior in obtaining and using a substance.

Abuse vs. Dependence

When terms are being thrown around regarding drug and alcohol use and dependence, it really depends how a person falls into categories of the DSM-IV. There is no distinction in the most recent edition, but abuse and dependence are defined on a scale that measures time and degree of substance use. Abuse is like the early stage of dependence. As substance abuse becomes more frequent, the likelihood of developing a dependence disorder increases.
The difference between addiction and dependence can help people better understand addiction. Knowing what the true nature of addiction entails may not even relate to words per se, but in how it impacts a person’s life. Knowing is part of the journey but it is important to realize while dependence may be present without addiction, substance dependencies frequently lead to addiction. It helps to seek treatment from a provider willing and able to provide treatment and care that is tailored to meet the individual’s needs.

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