Addiction vs Dependence: Which Are You?

Are you addicted or dependent to drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances? The difference between the two is often hard to define because some organizations use the words interchangeably. To them, addiction and dependence is almost the same.

But the reality is that there are differences between the two. There also signs and symptoms that tell you if you or someone you know is dependent or addicted.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the subject of “The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction,” different parts of the brain are responsible for whether someone is addicted or dependent on drugs.

When studying the different areas of the brain, it is the reward pathway that would tell if someone is addicted to morphine, for example. In terms of dependence to morphine, it is the thalamus and brainstem areas that need to be reviewed.

It is possible for someone to be dependent on morphine but not necessarily addicted to it. This is especially true for someone that needs to be chronically treated with morphine.

The American Psychiatric Association, on the other hand, considers dependence as more severe than abuse. It is abuse that leads to dependence which, in the context of drugs, is defined as someone needing one or more drugs to even function properly.

So how can you tell if you are just dependent or all out addicted?

You are addicted if…

  • You tried to quit using the substance altogether in the past but failed.
  • You constantly find yourself craving or having a strong desire to use drugs.
  • Your responsibilities at home and at work are suffering due to substance use.
  • Your relationship is experiencing problems, but you can’t stop using the substance in spite of them.
  • You find yourself engaging in risky behavior, with the desire for risk-taking fueled by substance abuse.
  • You find yourself constantly thinking about drugs or alcohol and how to obtain or use it.

If you suspect that you are addicted to substance use and experience withdrawal symptoms following the desire to quit using, your suspicions are correct.

Common symptoms of withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Depression
  • Itching
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nightmares
  • Seizures or hallucinations
  • Sweating

You know you are dependent if:

  • You experience some or all of the signs and symptoms of addiction listed above.
  • Your tolerance for the substance increases as your body adapts to the drug. The consequences are your desire for larger and/or more frequent doses.
  • You experience the physical symptoms of substance withdrawal when you stop using the drug or drinking alcohol.

The Path to Dependence

As previously mentioned, abuse can lead to dependence, and most people who are on the track to dependence go through several stages.

Recreational use

All it takes is a single puff once in a while. You take them infrequently and only in social settings. For most people, it is all about fun and trying something bolder and more adventurous.

Regular use

When infrequent and recreational use is no longer enough, you find yourself using drugs on a regular basis. Every time you think about losing access to the substance that makes you high, you become concerned or worried about it.

Because substance use has become your primary concern, you abandon your family and friends, as a consequence. This is when you start failing in your responsibilities to them.

Addiction sets in

The moment you become more tolerant and preoccupied with the effects of drugs and how to acquire them, you are officially an addict. At this point, you not only fail in your responsibilities at work or at home, but you also lose interest in relationships and other things that used to make you happy and content.

Dependency strikes

Because you feel like you will die if you can’t obtain and use substances, you become well and truly dependent on them. You can no longer function without substance use. As a consequence, your mental and physical health deteriorates.

Recognizing the signs of whether you are addicted or dependent is vital to your treatment. While treatment becomes complicated if you are dependent, there is help available.

Take note that, to become independent of substance use, you must first stop using it. This can cause physical symptoms that will be hard to handle. Under the circumstances, a good detox program is one of your best options.