It may seem as if dependence and addiction are the same things and the words can be used interchangeably. The truth is there is a difference.

Dependence is when there is a physical connection and need for a substance. An individual who builds up a tolerance to a drug and needs more, then who goes through withdrawal when the drug is taken away, is dependent. It is a physiological need for a substance.

Addiction, on the other hand, is more psychological. The brain changes its biochemistry so that one continues to use regardless of the negative outcomes that result to themselves and others around them. It is characterized by behaviors that are erratic and illogical, specifically when the individual is without their substance of choice.

Two Types of Dependence

Dependence can be mental and physical. Mental dependence is a way that one becomes conditioned to behave a certain way when they are confronted with triggers that stimulate them cognitively. For instance, a trigger for smoking could be drinking alcohol. One may not smoke unless they are around an environment with alcohol or when they are consuming alcohol. As these triggers strengthen, they begin the process of the biochemical changes that occur in the brain which then lead to addiction. When the brain begins to crave a substance at an irrational level and there is a physical need to have the substance to feel normal, addiction begins to develop.

Abuse vs. Dependence

One of the most reputable resources that can help diagnose and understand the intricacies of addiction, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), at one time, separated abuse and dependence as different. Today, the DSM has eliminated the distinction and keeps them similar. Any difference between these comes down to where they fall on a scale of intensity.

Abuse tends to be the first step or occurs on the beginning part of the scale. One who overdoes alcohol or drugs but doesn’t need them to live daily and still has control of rational thought is where abuse begins. Over time, if abuse is not treated or decreased, the body develops a physical reliance on having such a consistent infusion of a substance in the individual’s system. This begins the process of physical dependence.

Understanding the Nature of Addiction

The Difference Between Dependence and AddictionOver the years, there have been changes back and forth regarding the definitions of abuse and dependence. In the DSM-V, the term disorder is used. That change was made in 2013 by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The bottom line is there is a distinct difference between dependence and addiction and understanding this variance can help understand the process of how addiction manifests. Once more is understood about how the process develops in individuals, the ability to better help those in need with recovery may be increased. It is understood that one can have a dependency on a substance and not necessarily also have an addiction. However, the most common pattern is that once a dependence gets hold, addiction isn’t far off. 

Help for Addiction and Dependence

If you believe you have either an addiction or a dependence, both can be helped immensely through the expert guidance of a medical detox and addiction treatment center alternative, like Discovery Place. Our center is located in the beautiful rolling hills of Tennessee. Our supportive Tennessee alternative addiction treatment center alternative programs can help you get clean. Call us today at 1-800-725-0922. At our Tennessee detox treatment center alternative, we are always available to talk with you and assist you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 


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