Behavioral Health & Substance Use Treatment in NC
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Is There a Difference Between Dependence & Addiction?

One of the most commonly asked questions people have in regards to drug addiction is whether there’s a difference between dependence and addiction. You may be trying to do research and see some organizations use the terms interchangeably, or you might have been told by a doctor that you’ve developed a “tolerance” or dependence on prescribed medication. Despite what some think, dependence and addiction describe two different types of relationships to drugs.

What Is Dependence?

Dependence usually refers to the physical dependence your body has developed on the drugs you’re taking and doesn’t necessarily always mean you’re addicted to that drug. For instance, if you’ve been taking painkillers to treat post-surgery pain, you may find that in a few days or weeks, the amount you’re taking every day isn’t enough to dull the pain. This is because your body has developed a tolerance to the drug, meaning you will need to take more of it to achieve the same desired effects.

Dependence also means you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms as a result of drug use. If you’ve been using a substance that is known for its high level of dependency and you suddenly stop using it or cut down your use, you may experience some negative symptoms. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with drug addiction.

Though withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the drug you’re using, some common symptoms people deal with include:

  • Restlessness
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Changes in mood
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain
  • Shakiness
  • Sleeping issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue

However, drug dependence is closely tied to drug addiction because it usually accompanies addiction.

Defining Drug Addiction & Warning Signs

Addiction involves not just physical tolerance to drugs, but other noticeable changes that happen when prolonged drug abuse creates biochemical changes in the brain. Someone with addiction is both physically and mentally reliant on a substance, as people with addictions tend to abuse drugs for the pleasurable high they feel when they’re on them. When you’re addicted to a drug, finding and using it becomes your main priority. Addiction can impair your judgment and many people destroy their relationships and livelihood as a result.

Many people with addictions, especially addictions to drugs they were described by doctors, don’t realize they have a problem because it can develop slowly over time. It’s important to know the warning signs of addiction so you can recognize when it’s time to seek professional help.

Some warning signs that may be indicators of an addiction include:

  • Intense urges: If your thoughts and desires are obsessive and revolve around drugs, you have drug cravings – a key symptom of addiction. This is why many people with addiction sideline their relationships, work, and school and no longer are interested in their favorite hobbies or activities.
  • Drug-seeking behaviors: If you have an addiction, you may be going to extreme lengths to obtain and use more drugs with no regard for your own health or safety. Risky drug-seeking behaviors can include going broke for drugs and/or stealing money from others so you can purchase more.
  • Denial: People with addictions tend to downplay or deny their drug use. If you’ve lied about doing drugs to your loved ones or downplayed just how much you’re doing them, you may have an addiction. Some people who are addicted to prescription drugs will lie to their doctors so they can get their prescriptions refilled.

Helping North Carolina Heal from Addiction Since 2006

It’s important for your health and future that you call October Road if you’re struggling with drugs. Even if you think you only have dependence and aren’t addicted, it’s recommended that you monitor your symptoms, as physical dependence is a slippery slope that often leads to addiction.

With facilities in Charlotte in Asheville, our North Carolina team strives to provide access to high-quality recovery services to as many locals in need as possible. We know how easy it is to fall into addiction without warning, and how difficult it can be to get sober and commit to a substance-free life. Whether you’re addicted to alcohol, cocaine, prescription drugs, or heroin, you can trust us to find a program that fits your unique needs.

Contact October Road today at (833) 993-1914 or fill out our online form to learn more about our therapies, medication-assisted treatment, and other outpatient support services.

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