Tolerance, Physical Dependence, Addiction: the Differences


Addiction, on the other hand, is a psychological and behavioral disorder characterized by an obsessive need to use a substance, despite negative consequences. People who are addicted to a drug may continue to use it even when it causes problems in their personal or professional lives, and they may feel a strong craving or urge to use the drug. Unlike tolerance, which focuses on how much of the substance you need to feel its effect, physical dependence happens when your body starts to rely on the drug. If you were to suddenly stop using it, you would likely experience some harsh symptoms. When people use the term “dependence,” they are usually referring to a physical dependence on a substance.

  • And here, too, among the committee members, the decision to introduce the term “addictive” into the DSM-5 was arrived at through disagreements and non-consensus.
  • Today, the APA classifies substance use disorders as mild, moderate, or severe.
  • If you develop a tolerance to a substance, it becomes less effective for you.
  • A person with an addictive temperament is generally using a drug or alcohol consistently to excess.
  • The longer a person uses a drug, the more likely their dependency will become an addiction.

” Mental dependence is when the use of drugs or alcohol is a conditioned response to something you feel or an event, often referred to as triggers. For example, if you get into an argument with a significant other, your first response will be to pick up a six-pack of beer or call your dealer for illicit drugs. These triggers set off biochemical changes in your brain, which influence addictive behavior.



It is important to understand and discuss the risks of drug dependence with your prescribing doctor. While drug dependence and addiction often co-occur, it is possible to be dependent on a drug without being addicted to it. For example, someone who takes a prescription medication as directed by their doctor may develop a physical dependence on the drug, but they may not feel a compulsive need to use it or experience negative consequences as a result of their drug use.

  • Rather, the manual defines substance abuse disorders as mild, moderate, or severe.
  • In this edition, the definitions revolving around addiction were changed once again.
  • Finally, there’s the myth that if you relapse after beating your addiction, you have failed.

That said, for many, but not all, substances, tolerance and withdrawal are often part of the package of symptoms of a substance use disorder. It is no secret that misinformation about addiction is rampant in popular media. One particular area of misinformation concerns how the use of language is employed when describing topics related to addiction. Several different medications are given while a person is going through detox; these drugs help safely manage a person’s withdrawal symptoms. The exact type of medication given during detox depends on the recovering person’s drug of choice. Whether a person has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, there are many commonalities when it comes to signs and symptoms, regardless of the specific type of substance being used.

Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

Since consistency is lacking, it’s important to establish some ground rules. If someone with a drug dependence detoxes, especially by slowly decreasing the amount of the medication they take over a period of time, they may suffer withdrawal symptoms, but can end that physical dependence. Fortunately, Volkow and her colleagues’ argument carried the day with the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 committee in 2013. Caffeine is an example of a common substance that causes physical dependence. If you can’t function properly in the morning without your cup of coffee, it could be that you are caffeine-dependent. When you miss your morning cup, you might develop physical withdrawal symptoms, like a headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and more.

addiction vs dependence

Research suggests that no treatment method is superior, but that social support is very important and that organizations such as AA and NA have better than average success rates in reducing relapse. Physical dependence is a natural expected physiological response to drugs such as opioids, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and corticosteroids. It is characterized by withdrawal symptoms with the patient being unable to cope when the drug is stopped. Studies have shown that addiction can form in individuals through a combination of genetic makeup and poor social skills. This is why the offspring of addicts are prone to becoming addicts. One study showed that a child of a parent with a drug or alcohol addiction is eight times more likely to develop an addiction as well.

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Could someone who is dependent on alcohol or drugs be diagnosed as having an addiction? The terms “addiction” and “dependence” are often used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two. Detoxification treatment may need to be administered to those with substance dependence due to the dangerous nature of some withdrawal symptoms.

  • Education is learning how to overcome and cope with the effects of addiction, such as compulsive cravings, and how to establish a healthier lifestyle.
  • Consider how a social drinker can become intoxicated, get behind the wheel of a car, and quickly turn a pleasurable activity into a tragedy that affects many lives.
  • Less-educated people are more likely to engage in heavy use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable.

The result is that clinicians who see evidence of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms assume that this means addiction, and patients requiring additional pain medication are made to suffer. Similarly, pain patients in need of opioid medications may forgo proper treatment because of the fear of dependence, which is self-limiting by equating it with addiction (764–765) [6]. When someone is addicted to a substance, it’s not uncommon for their loved ones to refer to them as having an “addiction” to certain behaviors or describe them as someone that is “dependent” on alcohol or drugs. People tend to use the words “addiction” and “dependent” interchangeably to describe a person’s behavior when engaged in a certain activity, as well as the results of the behavior when it leads to a physical illness. However, there are clear differences between the two terms, several of which deal with the chemical effects that happen to addicted persons.





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