What is the Difference Between Addiction vs. Dependence?
When someone notices drinking or drug use is becoming problematic, we may generally assume they are addicted. However, understanding the difference between addiction vs. dependence may mean getting an individual help before a problem worsens.
We know many individuals can keep their substance abuse hidden in plain sight. They often downplay their consumption and may say they could “quit anytime.” The picture of substance abuse, and the journey to addiction, is different for everyone. Commonly, a person is not suffering from a clinical disorder right away. Instead, they first develop a dependency on the drug that gradually begins to overtake their life until they reach addiction.
Understanding Substance Use Disorder and Addiction vs. Dependence
Someone can be a heavy, frequent drinker and still not qualify as an “addict” by clinical standards. Doctors and mental health professionals use the criteria laid out in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders to determine whether someone has a substance use disorder (SUD). 
A substance use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. The exact expression of symptoms will vary from person to person. Everyone’s individual genetic makeup, substances, and personal experiences impact how likely they are to develop an addiction and how addiction impacts their life.
What Is Dependence?
When a person drinks a lot of coffee, they may experience headaches, nausea, and irritability when they drink less. These physical symptoms stem from the body’s craving for caffeine, the substance it has grown used to over the course of a person’s coffee habit. When they drink less, they feel noticeably worse and can only feel normal again when they consume their usual amount. This depends on coffee; the same thing happens when a person uses drugs or alcohol.
Over time, substances impact brain chemistry. When the body grows used to the imbalance brought on by intoxication, it loses its ability to function normally without them. A person who does not drink or take any substances has different chemicals and neurotransmitters in their brain than a person who does. When a substance is taken away, someone is likely to experience mental distress and/or physical discomfort. These are called withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe. Unfortunately, someone may also die from withdrawal from certain substances. It’s imperative that someone seek medical attention immediately to manage withdrawal safely and effectively.
What Is Addiction?
Dependency is something that must be treated before addiction. An addicted person suffers from both a physical and mental dependency. However, not all individuals who have built a dependency may classify as having an addiction.
When a person is alcohol or drug dependent, they will experience negative side-effects when choosing to go without, but they are still able to manage. Within a few days, most of their symptoms subside. They may occasionally feel cravings or a desire to use substances again, but they are not dominated by this and can stick to sobriety more easily.
A person struggling with addiction does not have the same control level, a primary difference between addiction vs. dependence. Their dependency has reached a level where going without feels like death. They are willing to forgo everything to get their next drink or hit to maintain the feelings drugs or alcohol bring them. Some are desperate to quit, but they are also just as desperate to not go without.
They begin to suffer emotionally, mentally, and physically from their consumption. They often begin to experience problems in their relationships and personal life. Some stopped going to work or school, abandon close friends and family and begin to dedicate their lives solely to drinking or doing drugs.
Getting Help for Addiction vs. Dependence
Drug and alcohol addiction requires custom treatment plans to suit each person’s needs. A rehabilitation center must address every person’s specific experiences, needs, and abilities through the appropriate practice. Therefore, many rehabs no longer adopt a one-size-fits-all approach and instead emphasize the importance of individualized substance abuse treatment.
Treating dependency and addiction starts with detox. This is the process of allowing the body to remove any substance from its system and begin to rebalance itself. People with extreme addictions may never fully return their brain to the way it was before they used it.
In many cases, someone may manage physical dependency on medication, for example, by gradually reducing consumption over a specified period to avoid any severe withdrawal symptoms. In addiction, however, detox at a professional detox center is recommended. During detox, medical staff can provide personal support to alleviate discomfort and reduces the risk of any adverse effects. Under medical professionals’ direction, prescription medications may be administered to soothe or resolve some withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, someone can transfer from a detox center to a treatment program immediately.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with addiction vs. dependence, contact your local hospital or one of our professionals at Silver Sands Recovery.
About the author:
Silver Sands Recovery is a premier alcohol and drug rehab program located in Prescott, Arizona. Silver Sands specializes in chronic relapse and co-occurring disorders. We focus treatment on the whole person, not just their addiction. We do this by providing clinical excellence and compassionate effective treatment. We help adults 18 and older to successfully manage symptoms, overcome challenges, and develop the skills necessary to lead a productive and healthy life.
Silver Sands Recovery offers an exclusive sports program available to pro, semi-pro, collegiate athletes, and enthusiasts, who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. In between treatment and meetings, clients are given the opportunity to have instruction and practice with our experienced staff.