Addiction vs Dependence

Addiction is not the same thing as dependence. A person can be dependent on a harmful substance without being addicted to it. Those dependent on drugs and alcohol need the substance to function normally, but may not compulsively seek it out.

What is Dependence?

Many people confuse addiction and dependence. Drug dependence happens when the brain and body adapt to repeated use of a substance. The brain and body then can only function properly when taking the substance.

Addiction involves the pattern of taking the drug and the reward that goes with it. It’s the pattern of constant use that creates addiction. With addiction, a person’s behavior changes for the worse as their life becomes a quest to use more and more drugs.

Dependence puts you at risk of developing a full-blown addiction. Part of the addictive experience is the avoidance of the symptoms of withdrawal that go along with dependence. People with an addiction try to remain high or drunk at all times so they don’t have to deal with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

People dependent on a substance need it to function properly, but the quest to use may not dominate their lives. Addiction is an extreme dependence where the affected person seeks out the drug no matter the consequences.

Risks of Dependence

If you do not take a drug your body is dependent on you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These include mild reactions, such as having the shakes from caffeine withdrawal, to life-threatening reactions like seizures or respiratory arrest.

The withdrawal symptoms lead to using the drug again in order to feel physiologically normal. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines, alcohol or opiates may cause deadly these deadly reactions if you are severely addicted.

Fear of withdrawal symptoms may prevent people from seeking treatment, but the benefits of a drug-free life far outweigh living with addiction. The most important thing to remember is that withdrawal symptoms will pass with time.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Dr. Kent Hoffman has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/11/2019