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Addiction vs Physical Dependence

There is a common misconception that it is impossible to become addicted to a substance unless that substance causes physical dependence. Addiction is a complex disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit. Physical dependence is only related to the physical aspect of addiction, but it is not required for one to be addicted to a substance.

There is a difference between physical dependence and addiction, and one may exist without the other. Dr. Christopher J. Welsh, in a 2008 ABC News article entitled Is Physical Dependence the Same as Addiction, explains, “Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs—including many prescription drugs, even if taken as instructed. Thus, physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction, but it often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be difficult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.”

Addiction and physical dependence act on two different areas of the brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “different parts of the brain are responsible for the addiction and dependence to heroin and opiates. Review the areas in the brain underlying the addiction to morphine (reward pathway) and those underlying the dependence to morphine (thalamus and brainstem). Thus, it is possible to be dependent on morphine, without being addicted to morphine. (Although, if one is addicted, they are most likely dependent as well.)” For example, a hospital patient may be given morphine, develop tolerance, and display withdrawal symptoms, but the reward pathway in their brain has not been altered as a result of chronic reward seeking morphine use and they do not suffer from the disease of addiction.

The medical understanding of addiction requires that an individual continues to use drugs despite negative consequences. The “reward” of drug use has caused them to entirely lose power over their ability to regulate or cease their use. The NIDA explains, “Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs—including many prescription drugs, even if taken as instructed. Thus, physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction, but it often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be difficult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.” There is often overlap between physical dependence and addiction, however, and many people who develop a physical dependence to drugs are also addicted and require treatment.

Your life doesn’t have to be one of pain and suffering as a result of addiction. You can embark upon the rewarding journey of recovery by making the decision to seek help today. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, is staffed with knowledgeable professional who understand the complexities of addiction and are focused on introducing a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle that will sustain clients through treatment and far into the future. For information about treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431