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The Fine Line Between Dependency and Addiction

When speaking about substance abuse, dependency and addiction often get intertwined as they sound very similar to one another. However, these two terms are completely different when we talk about how the relationship between us and the substance forms. Understanding these differences can help you or a loved one get the treatment you need and help define your relationship with the substances you use. So, we’re here to give a short description of these two terms and why it’s important to get help for your substance use.

What Is The Difference Between Dependency and Addiction?

For those who have problems with substances like drugs or alcohol, having a severe attachment to a substance can cause cycles of poor mental health, leading to life-long consequences. Addictive substances, however, don’t always appear obvious, as prescription medications can lead to states of dependency and addiction. Even while prescription medications are meant to solve and remedy medical problems, the systematic issues involved in the pharmaceutical industry often perpetuate addiction, specifically narcotics medications such as opioids, which are commonly used for pain relief. \

Both dependency and addiction sound similar, but these two terms actually have some subtle differences:

  • Dependency: Dependency implies that the body and brain are physically reliant on a certain substance, including prescription medications. Dependency is about the physical relationship with a substance, and even with the onset of physical dependency, it doesn’t often mean that it can result in addiction. This term refers to how the brain reacts when withdrawal occurs, as the brain ultimately develops a tolerance and thus dependency on that substance, which in turn disrupts the brain’s chemical balance. Without the presence of the drug or alcohol, it can cause severe physical reactions that often lead to addiction to the substance.
  • Addiction: Addiction, on the other hand, refers to a person’s inability to stop using the substance and is often defined as an illness. Addiction is often about the person’s psychological relationship with a substance, even while the brain can react with a sense of physical dependency. Addiction to a substance usually starts with withdrawal symptoms once it stops being used, and during this stage, the person can be influenced by their brain’s mental reaction to withdrawal. People experiencing addiction often go through cycles of stopping and relapsing; the addiction can eventually take over the person’s judgment. When the person stops taking the substance, it leads to symptoms of deniability, failure to complete daily tasks, and reoccurring social problems associated with their addiction.

What You Can Do To Stop Substance Abuse

Dependency and addiction are often used interchangeably by many, but learning these two terms can help you recognize abnormal patterns in yourself and your loved ones. These terms can be applied to each person’s circumstances, as their relationship with substances is unique as their own. However, it’s important that you seek out guidance from your doctor about your physical and mental health in these cases. Contacting a mental health professional is a good start towards finding those answers.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.

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