Dependence vs. Addiction: What’s the Difference?

At first, dependence and addiction may sound like the same thing. These words are often used interchangeably and sometimes their true meanings can get lost in between conversations. Due to this inconsistency, it helps to differentiate the two and have a better understanding of what they really mean. In this article, we’ll be discussing the differences between dependence and addiction to hopefully clear up any misconceptions surrounding these two terms.

 

What is dependence?

Dependence is a term used to describe physical reliance on a particular substance. The body undergoes biochemical changes as a result of continuous substance abuse, to which the person experiences withdrawal symptoms after cessation. Take for example prednisone, a drug that decreases the body’s own cortisol production in order to adapt to repeated doses. This results in steroid-like withdrawal symptoms which are eliminated once cortisol levels are restored.

How is dependence treated?

Dependence is treated medically and the goal is to slowly flush out the drug from the patient’s body so it can readjust to its normal functions. Patients who’ve developed a dependence from medication like painkillers can be treated through a method called tampering. This method decreases the dosage of the drug slowly over time to minimise withdrawal symptoms.

Patients who’ve developed a dependence for prescription or illicit drugs have different medical needs and thus detoxification is required in order to fully eliminate the drugs from their system. Controlled tapers and medications are often used to manage serious withdrawal symptoms and medications are prescribed to manage dependence. For example, patients detoxing from heroin may be given methadone or buprenorphine which are opioids used to alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

There is no set duration on how long detoxification lasts. It can take several days up to several weeks depending on how much toxins are present in the patient’s body. While the detoxification process plays an important role in managing dependency, a drug rehabilitation program is key to preventing relapse avoid detox again in the future.

Just like how some substances cause dependence are not addictive, there are also highly addictive substances that do not show withdrawal symptoms. Drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine do not exhibit any signs of physical withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and vomiting after cessation, but may show psychological symptoms like anxiety, drug cravings, and even depression.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a term used to describe psychological and behavioural changes in a person after prolonged substance abuse. Addictive drugs hardwire the brain’s reward and motivation systems. Therefore, continuous exposure to the substance tricks the brain into seeking drugs and prioritizing them over productive, healthy activities.

For example, people who are addicted to alcohol may refrain from a quick beer on the way home but inevitably find themselves sitting beside a bar table for hours after work. Even if their GP advises them to stop drinking alcohol, they may seek reasons to justify their behaviour and continue on with their drinking habits.

How is addiction treated?

Most health experts and those who work within the addiction treatment sphere recognise addiction as a disease due to the fact that it can significantly alter a person’s physical and psychological condition. Almost all addictive drugs impact an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens which is normally stimulated by naturally rewarding activities like spending time with friends, eating, and other pleasurable activities.

Similar to dependence, the patient undergoes detoxification to get rid of all the toxins in their body. From there, the patient receives therapy depending on their goals and needs. There are several different types of therapy for addiction and those are:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – a type of therapy that helps people recognise their addiction and replace their destructive habits with healthier ones.
  • Motivational interviewing – motivates patients to embrace their treatment efforts that best help them change their substance abuse behaviour.
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy – helps patients with severe personality disorders to minimise cravings and lower the risk of relapse through learning healthy coping skills.
  • Contingency management – provides material rewards for patients that can serve as added motivation to maintain their sobriety.
  • 12-step facilitation – aims to promote sustained abstinence by engaging with people within 12-step peer support groups.

Counselling also comes into play when treating addiction to help strengthen their life skills and reinforce a positive attitude. From there, medications are prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms and help the patient manage their cravings.

Perhaps the most important part of treating addiction is the rehabilitation program. Rehab programs offer addicts the best chance of success in regaining control of their life and maintaining sobriety for a very long time. These programs focus on keeping the patient drug-free while helping them develop their social and professional skills while being away from familiar triggers and temptations.

Like behavioural therapies, rehabilitation programs vary to meet the exact needs of the patient. For example, some rehab programs work on an outpatient treatment where the person receives medical care at a facility and is allowed to go home. Residential treatment on the other hand, works by admitting the person in a special facility for a number of days to receive care.

Understanding the difference between dependence and addiction can go a long way towards clearing up any misconceptions about the two terms. If you or your loved one is suffering from dependence or addiction, don’t delay and seek help as much as possible. Calm Rehab, a leading drug and alcohol addiction rehab centre can answer any questions you have with regards to this article.

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