Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

When it comes to abusing drugs and alcohol you are either having a physical dependence or an addiction to it. How are these different?

It is not uncommon to come across many articles where dependency is likened to addiction. However, is there any real difference between the two? First, let’s look at what addiction is and is not. As defined by Healthline®, addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain system involving motivation, reward, and memory. It concerns how a person may crave a particular substance, behavior, or activity and is typically characterized by a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of a perceived reward from the substance or activity. Often, the consequences attached are overlooked, or concern is not at all given to them.

In America, the most common addictions are drug and alcohol addictions, gambling, and addictions to work, sex, coffee or caffeine, technology, and food. At least one in ten Americans can be found to be combating one form of addiction or the other. In this millennial times, technology addiction has spiked to almost rival alcohol and drugs addiction. The craze for the latest gadgets and the compulsion to have a presence online are vital indicators of technological addiction.

Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?

Addiction: What it is Not

Now that we are somewhat conversant with the basics of addiction and some common types, it helps to clarify what it is not. For starters, just because a person is very interested in a substance or activity does not imply addiction, but rather, an obsessive or compulsive desire for that element must exist. Also, a licensed physician must give an actual diagnosis and certification for addiction to exist. Hence, if the condition is suspected in any individual, medical interventions can confirm the genuine status of that person. Finally, addiction is not a biological condition but a psychological one that may have implications physically and otherwise.

What is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence is a situation that arises from substance addiction. It is when a person who has consumed drugs, alcohol or other matter over a long period experiences unpleasant physical symptoms upon withdrawal. In itself, withdrawal is the sudden quitting of a substance taken over an extended period. However, tapering off, the steady reduction in dosage or amounts of a substance consumed may also elicit physical dependence.

Difference Between Addiction and Physcial Dependence

A clear example of physical dependence would occur in an individual who has used cocaine for a while, say six months, and now has to undergo rehabilitation for his addiction. As rehab involves the non-usage of cocaine, this person may begin to struggle with the absence of the drug in their body system since the body has built tolerance overtime for that substance. Hence, symptoms such as nausea, hallucinations, seizures, and so on may begin to manifest. This is what is referred to as physical dependence. In essence, the individual has used the drug for so long that his body has grown accustomed and can seemingly no longer function without it.

Physical dependence is a serious issue in any addiction recovery plan. If not well handled, it may lead to a relapse. Once the individual begins to think that they cannot do without addictive substance intake, their will to become sober weakens, and the temptation to go back to using or consuming the material intensifies. Therefore, recovery specialists take extra care during detox. At this stage, physical dependence manifests the most. Hence, we see the disparity between addiction and physical dependence, resulting from the former in most cases.

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