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Addiction and Dependence, What’s the Difference?

woman dealing with addiction

Have you ever wondered, “What is the difference between addiction and dependence?”

Often groups will be at fault for using the words interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but they do not, and unfortunately, it only adds to the confusion. These words have two different definitions and require two different types of treatment, but first, we have to define them accurately.

Dependence is best referred to as a physical dependence on a substance. A dependency is characterized with symptoms like tolerance and withdrawal, but it is possible to have a dependence without being addicted; however, one must be careful as addiction could be right around the corner of a dependency.

Addiction is referred to as a behavioral change due to changes in the brain from the continued use of a substance.  The use of the substance becomes the top priority of the person, and they will behave in harmful ways to obtain the substance if in need of it. Addiction has two components, physical and mental dependence on a substance, yet what distinguishes it best is these two components being present with uncontrollable behavior.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the best resource for diagnosing addiction. The most recent chart produce by the DSM is the DSM-V, and in it, they eliminated the previous terminology of “substance abuse” when referring to addiction and “substance dependence” when referring to dependence and now use the term “substance use disorder” as an inclusive term for both addiction and dependence. This is an effort to help more people who may be in the earlier stages of addiction.

(To view a copy of the DSM-V chart click here.)

It is essential to be able to know the difference between an addiction and dependence especially in terms of recovery. Also, dependence can be a stepping stone towards addiction and its best to get help as quickly a possible to prevent harmful behavior. If you or someone you love may have an addiction or dependence. Don’t wait, get help today.