Addiction versus Dependence: There is a Difference

A drink on the weekend or after work isn’t usually something to worry about, until it begins to be something that you absolutely need. The same thing goes for certain medications, where you become dependent on them to live normally. But how do you know if you’re dealing with alcohol or drug addiction, or if it’s just a dependence? The difference, though subtle, is important to determining how to stay on a healthy path.

At Lori Scott Family Care, our staff help you figure out if you’re dealing with addiction, and get you the help you need. Dr. Lori Scott is an addiction specialist who helps you navigate the difficult roads of drug and alcohol addiction. She’s also able to help you figure out if you’re truly addicted, or if you’re dealing with a dependence.

What is addiction?

An addiction is caused by a brain dysfunction that leads you to wanting a substance or drug, no matter what the consequences could be. Addiction is very complex, and usually involves risky behaviors to get what your body is craving. The end goal for your brain is to get the high, or reward, that addiction brings.

Addiction is a disease, and doesn’t just involve illicit drugs; it can also involve behaviors, caffeine, or tobacco products. So how can you tell if you’re dealing with addiction? Common signs of this problem include:

In most cases, addiction leads to problems within your personal or professional life. Despite these consequences, you’ll continue to crave the substance of choice. This disease also goes through stages of remission, where you’ll realize the problem and begin to get better, and relapse, when you begin the addictive cycle all over again.

Symptoms of dependence

Dependence is different from addiction in many ways, but the two are definitely linked to each other. You can think of dependence as the first step to addictive behavior. However, you can be dependent on a drug or alcohol without it becoming an addiction.

Dependence to a substance is purely a physical problem, meaning your body needs a certain amount of the substance to thrive. With a dependence, your body goes through stages of tolerance of the substance, and symptoms of withdrawal if you don’t have the required amount in your system.

Dependence doesn’t have the reward component in your brain—meaning the problem is purely physical in nature. Your body requires a certain amount of alcohol or drug to function properly or to get the desired effect, and if it doesn’t get that, you go through something called withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

In severe cases, seizures can occur from the lack of the substance that your body needs, especially if you quit cold turkey. Withdrawal can be dangerous, so it’s best to seek expert help from Dr. Scott before attempting it yourself.

How are they different?

Addiction and dependence are very similar, but they each have different characteristics that set them apart from each other. The main difference between the two is that addiction involves your brain, where dependence is purely a physical tolerance to a substance.

Dependence also happens with other things other than just drugs and alcohol—in fact, you could be dependent on your diabetes medicine to keep your blood sugar under control. Dependence basically means that your body physically needs something to function, and if you don’t have it, you could go through withdrawal.

Addiction usually follows dependence if you’re dealing with alcohol or illicit substances. You could think of dependence as the stop right before addiction. When you’re addicted to something, you’ll do just about anything to get to the reward that your addiction brings. 

Addiction also usually affects your relationships and your entire life, because you’ll do anything in order to get that high that your brain is craving. 

Although both of these problems are similar, they’re also very different, so it’s best for you to be seen by Dr. Scott as soon as you feel you are dealing with a problem that you can’t handle on your own. 

If you’re suffering with addiction or think you might be, schedule an appointment with Dr. Scott by calling our office at 252-238-7079. You can also book a consultation online today.

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