Understanding the difference between addiction and dependence

Understanding the difference between addiction and dependence

Understanding the difference between addiction and dependence

The terms “drug dependence” and “drug addiction” are often confused as synonyms for the same concept. In fact, they describe two very different conditions. A person who is dependent on a drug is not necessarily addicted to that drug, and vice versa. When people take prescription drugs, it is important to understand the difference to ensure that they are maintaining a healthy relationship with their medication.

What is dependence?

Drug dependence is often called “physical dependence” because it is a dependence in the body. When a patient takes medication, his or her body gradually adapts to the new drugs in his or her system to achieve equilibrium. If the medication is removed from the body, the equilibrium is disrupted and the patient will suffer withdrawal symptoms. As the body’s chemistry changes, it develops a tolerance to the drug, which causes patients to need stronger doses to have the same effect.

Physical dependence on a drug is a natural and expected part of taking prescription drugs. Doctors routinely anticipate a patient’s dependence on a drug and factor it into his or her treatment. When a patient’s treatment is nearing completion, the medication can be slowly tapered off to maintain withdrawal symptoms until the drug is completely gone from the system. Once the physical dependence is gone, the patient will have no more need for the medication and feel no ill effects (National Institute of Drug Abuse, “The Science of Drug Addiction”).

What is addiction?

Addiction is a psychological compulsion to use a drug. An addicted individual will be driven to use the drug at the expense of his or her general well-being and find it difficult or even impossible to stop. Addiction to prescription medication can cause a patient to take more than his or her recommended dosage or continue to take the medication long after it is no longer needed for its intended purpose. This behavior can cause serious repercussions on the individual’s health, social life and professional life.

A person may (and often will) become physically dependent on the drug that he or she is addicted to, but it is not a requirement of addiction. It is also common for a patient to become physically dependent on medication without ever developing an addiction. The key component to addiction is the psychological compulsion to use at all cost. Although dependent drug users will suffer physical withdrawals if they do not take their medication, only an addicted user will feel compelled to endanger his or her health by taking more than needed (The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide”).

If you suspect that you have developed an addiction to the medication that you are taking, the Prescription Drug Addiction Help is available 24/7 to address any queries or help you get connected with the right treatment program. Call us now at 866-623-3847 to speak with a representative.