man with a drug dependence holding a pill

Drug use often leads to abuse over time as it becomes extremely difficult to stop using a drug once a dependence starts to form. Drug dependence is when an individual is unable to function without being under the influence of a specific drug. Dependence can develop from prescription drug use as well, even if taken as directed, but is commonly a sign of addiction.

An individual who is physically dependent on a drug isn’t necessarily addicted. Physical drug dependence can occur in patients who use prescription pain medication during long-term treatments but aren’t addicted to them despite the routine use. The difference is that an addicted person’s primary focus is drug use whereas a dependent person is using their drug in response to an ailment or symptom.

This article will breakdown drug use to help our communities understand the difference between dependence and addiction.

How Is Drug Dependence Different From SUD?

Terminology and divisions of various types of substance abuse and addiction diagnoses change constantly. The most recent version of the DSM-5, an official medical reference material for diagnosing patients, has placed dependence under substance use disorder requirements. While both situations meet similar criteria, the fact that SUD and addiction are used interchangeably has caused some confusion within the community.

Physical dependence on a drug occurs after a specific drug has been routinely used over time. The reason for the dependence is the appearance of side effects once drug use has stopped. These side effects are known as withdrawal symptoms and can be fatal if left unaddressed by medical professionals. Drug dependence refers specifically to these physical withdrawal symptoms while SUD refers to the long-term effects.

SUD is defined as a condition in which an individual is unable to stop substance use even in the event of negative or harmful consequences. The effects of SUD refer to long-term changes in:

  • Mood
  • Behavior
  • Cognitive ability
  • Social standing
  • Work or school performance
  • Relationship quality

Drug dependence can be part of an SUD diagnosis but still exists on its own. Patients who are prescribed opioid painkillers or benzodiazepines often require additional support when ending their prescription to avoid withdrawal symptoms. These patients don’t meet the other requirements for SUD but do meet the criteria for physical dependence.

What Causes Drug Dependence?

Long-term use of a medication or drug leads to the body adapting to its presence. When that presence ends, the body struggles to function which leads to withdrawal symptoms. It’s possible for this to occur outside of cases of addiction but nearly every addicted individual is also physically dependent on a drug.

Physical dependence can develop quickly depending on the type and quantity of drug being used. As usage continues, the brain and central nervous system alter chemical production to accommodate the effects of the drug. A new baseline for functioning is built upon the drug and falls apart when it leaves the body.

Imagine you’ve learned how to balance on a bicycle and someone comes up and puts training wheels on. Over time, you forget how to stay upright on the bike and fall over when the training wheels come off. The scrapes, bumps and bruises from falling are the withdrawal symptoms in this example.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms To Look Out For

Avoiding withdrawal symptoms is the goal of anyone looking to end their drug use. Stopping cold turkey isn’t an option for most as the withdrawals are often more painful and uncomfortable than tolerable, leading back to drug use.

The symptoms experienced will differ between individuals as the drug type, length of use, quantity consumed and their personal health all play into the brain’s reaction to drug use and withdrawal. The most common withdrawal symptoms are:

  • muscle spasms and shakes
  • head and muscle aches
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hallucinations
  • diarrhea
  • irritability

If you notice any of these signs in a friend or loved one you suspect of using drugs, be sure to offer them support however possible. Getting through withdrawal symptoms is the hardest part of recovery for many individuals.

Get Help Overcoming Withdrawal Symptoms

Seeking out addiction treatment means having medical attention and supervision during the withdrawal process. Known as MAT, medication-assisted treatment is used at top rehab centers to taper guests off of their drug and give the brain time to adapt back to normal conditions.

America’s Rehab Campus offers medical detox with 24/7 supervision to address withdrawal symptoms as they come to make withdrawal as comfortable as possible. If you or a loved one is in need of treatment, schedule a consultation or ask our team questions by reaching out today. ARC accepts most insurances including Tricare.