Many people use dependence and addiction interchangeably, but the two conditions are not the same. Needing a substance to get through the day might sound like addiction, but that pattern of behavior is actually the medical definition of dependence. Addiction, on the other hand, occurs when individuals compulsively abuse substances despite negative consequences. Even though the two conditions are different, they are related, since dependence can lead to addiction.
What Is Dependence?
When individuals are dependent on drugs or alcohol, they need a consistent supply of their preferred substance to feel “normal.” This is because drugs and alcohol disrupt the balance of chemicals in the brain. Over time, the brain begins to rely on the presence of drugs and alcohol to function “normally.” Eventually, the brain associates these substances with a psychological or physical need.
Individuals who have a psychological dependence on substances often use drugs and alcohol as a conditioned response to triggering events or feelings. Such a trigger can be as simple as seeing a certain person or having an argument. These triggers set off biochemical changes in the individual’s brain. The brain, under the influence of addictive substances, then compels the individual to consume more alcohol or drugs. When they do, they temporarily feel at ease.
With physical dependence, the body becomes so accustomed to the substance that it starts to function differently. This new way of functioning, which is associated with the use of addictive substances, becomes “normal.” When individuals stop taking their preferred substance, the body experiences shock, which can trigger withdrawal symptoms. Without professional help, many individuals continue to use their substance of choice to feel “normal.”
How Dependence Leads to Addiction
Research shows that dependence can, and often does, lead to addiction. Dependence can lead to addiction because relying on drugs and alcohol to function:
- Increases Use. Because the body and mind have become accustomed to the presence of drugs and alcohol, individuals depend on these substances for everyday functioning. Whenever they’re not functioning “optimally,” they use drugs or alcohol to cope. Sadly, this increases the quantity and frequency of the substances they consume. Ironically, the more substances they consume, the more they rely on each substance. Eventually, they lose control of their substance use and start using compulsively despite negative consequences. This pattern of behavior indicates addiction.
- Triggers Symptoms of Withdrawal. When individuals who are dependent on drugs and alcohol stop using addictive substances, they experience withdrawal. These symptoms can be so severe that individuals do whatever they can in order to escape or numb the pain. Sadly, that usually means returning to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, chronic substance abuse paves the way for addiction.
- Satisfies Cravings. Whether individuals use drugs or alcohol to feel normal, perform everyday functions, or to escape symptoms of withdrawal, they’re satisfying a craving for an addictive substance. Eventually, they lose control and compulsively use the substance despite any and all negative consequences, which is the medical definition of addiction.
Helping You Regain Control Of Your Life
Being dependent on or addicted to any substance can negatively affect your life. Dependence can make you feel like you need drugs or alcohol. Addiction can cause you to continue to use drugs and alcohol despite the most painful and damaging consequences. But there’s hope. Professional treatment programs like ours at Bridges of Hope can help you overcome dependence and addiction. Let us help you live the sober life you want and deserve. Contact us to learn more.