Substance Use

Addiction vs Dependence: What is The Difference?

group drinking alcohol in bar

Table of Contents

Get Help Now

check insurance
Check your insurance by using our Online Form
call us
Talk to someone now.
Call (855) 430-9439

How Do Addiction and Dependence Differ?

“Addiction” and “dependence” are often used interchangeably. However, these terms are not the same. Someone can experience drug dependence without addiction. The term dependence traditionally describes physical dependence but also applies to mental dependence. This condition involves adaptations that lead to tolerance and the onset of withdrawal symptoms following cessation.

Dependence evolves into addiction when you continue taking a substance despite the harm it’s causing in your life. Changes in the brain often lead to significant changes in a person’s behavior, and drug use becomes a user’s main priority. 

If you are concerned about drug addiction or substance dependence, seek professional support. While not all cases of dependence are linked to addiction, it is often a slippery slope, especially when withdrawal symptoms are severe. Call Zinnia Health today at (855) 430-9439 to discuss your concerns surrounding physical reliance and addictive behavior.

Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us

Mental Dependence vs. Physical Dependence

When most people think of dependence on drugs or alcohol abuse, they typically think of the physical withdrawal symptoms that develop in response to the cessation period. For example, someone dependent on opioids will experience severe flu-like symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, cramps, etc. However, dependence and addiction are complex and often involve mental symptoms like increased depression and anxiety.

If your body becomes used to a regular dose of an antidepressant or you drink alcohol daily, you’ll experience unpleasant symptoms when you stop. The term dependence often relates to these physical symptoms — but in many cases, it’s the mental dependence that causes people to continue using. Addiction is often a significant cause for concern once mental dependence develops. Once physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms surface, it is time to reflect on your substance use

Psychological dependence can be just as challenging as physical symptoms to overcome. For example, cocaine withdrawal includes physical symptoms like fatigue and general discomfort. However, most psychological symptoms can be even more challenging for some. Increased agitation, anxiety, and depressed mood can be overwhelming and last for months. Cravings can also be significant, encouraging people to continue using, even if they don’t want to. 

Once mental dependence develops, triggers in your environment can cause brain changes that influence addictive behavior. Your trigger may be a person, place, or an emotional response to a specific event. In most cases, mental and physical dependence means addiction. However, to be characterized as an addiction, you must also exhibit uncontrollable behavior to obtain and use a substance. This combination of symptoms and characteristics is why many addicts cannot stop using, even after losing their job, house, or family. 

Comparing Substance Abuse and Dependence

Substance abuse is when you create a pattern of drug use, resulting in issues with your personal and professional life. You may stop going to work or school, and as substance abuse worsens, you may take driving under the influence to get your next dose. 

Substance abuse is similar to the early stage of dependence. As your substance abuse becomes more frequent, you increase the likelihood of developing dependence, which can lead to addiction. However, many clinicians now avoid specific terms like dependence or addiction and instead use the term substance use disorder. This term can be found in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

A substance use disorder is considered a mental health disorder that develops after chronic substance abuse. Physical and mental symptoms can characterize this disorder. Many users experience significant brain changes that alter their behavior as substance use worsens. If you have begun to act irrationally and prioritize drugs or alcohol above anything else, it’s time to discuss your options with a professional healthcare team. 

Zinnia Health offers evidence-based treatment centers across the nation. If you’re struggling with addiction, you must seek assistance. Depending on the substance of choice and the route of administration, the consequences could be fatal. Place contact us at (855) 430-9439 to learn more about the next steps. 

Why It’s Important to Know the Difference

Researchers are concerned about the misdiagnosis of addictive disorders based on the potential negative outcomes — for example, worsening stigma or discontinuing needed medications. The terms dependence and addiction must be separated to ensure the proper interventions and treatments. Although they are closely linked, and there is plenty of overlap, they are not the same, and that matters. 

A patient may become dependent on opioids without developing an addiction. If they want to stop using the medication they were prescribed because of the side effects or withdrawal symptoms, they can work with their doctor to taper their dose if necessary. In this case, if the patient had been labeled with an addiction, they could have experienced pushback in their lives, such as shame or job loss.

Please remember — you must never stop taking a prescribed medication without speaking to your healthcare professional. If you feel your medication brings more harm than good, talk with your healthcare team. 

In contrast, a wrong diagnosis can hinder someone from getting the help they need. Users may convince themselves they use their substance of choice because their body relies on it, but they can stop whenever they want. For some users, that can be life-threatening, especially if drug or alcohol use has escalated. It’s crucial to be open and honest with your healthcare team so that they can help you get a proper diagnosis.

Each situation is unique, so knowing whether you or a loved one are experiencing dependence, addiction, or both can make all the difference in how you’ll proceed. Underlying mental health issues can also accompany dependence and addiction. In these cases, holistic, integrated addiction treatment is required.

Get Help for Addiction or Dependence Today

Addiction is a disease, and like any other medical condition, it requires a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan. Working with professional care providers and addiction specialists will help you understand your current risk levels and what that means concerning the next steps. 

If you are experiencing negative consequences and are still unable to stop using, this indicates addiction. Have you lost your job, or are loved ones walking out of your life because of your substance use? If so, it’s time to consider seeking help. This step can be overwhelming, but without reaching out for help, your cycle of drug abuse may worsen. For some, depending on the addictive substance of choice and the route of administration, the results may be life-threatening. 

At Zinnia Health, inpatient and outpatient programs are available to meet your needs and circumstances. Please get in touch with Zinnia Health to learn more about the available treatment options and levels of care. Our team is available 24/7, ready to help you navigate your road to sobriety. 

Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us