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Is Addiction the Same as Physical Dependence?

Addiction is a complex disease the encompasses the physical, mental, and spiritual. Physical dependence to a substance can result from chronic use, but is not a necessary part of addiction. In fact, it is possible to become addicted to substances and activities that do not have the capacity to create physical dependence, but the addiction can be just as powerful.

Drug addiction is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Addiction does not only occur with substances that produce physical dependence, such as heroin and benzodiazepines. According to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step Recovery Programs, there is also a spiritual aspect to the disease the drives one into compulsive and chronic alcohol or drug use.

Physical dependence can occur without the disease of addiction. 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.” An individual can become physically dependent to a substance, but not suffer from the disease of addiction, and, conversely, an individual can become addicted to a substance that does not produce physical dependence.

Physical dependence often accompanies addiction, but physical dependence and addiction work in two different areas of the brain. The area of the brain underlying addiction is the reward pathway, while the areas of the brain underlying physical dependence are the thalamus and brainstem. The NIDA explains, “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.) This is especially true for people being treated chronically with morphine, for example, pain associated with terminal cancer. They may be dependent – if the drug is stopped, they suffer a withdrawal syndrome. But, they are not compulsive users of the morphine, and they are not addicted.” Addiction, with or without physical dependence, is a chronic, progressive, and often fatal disease that requires treatment to overcome.

Your life can be one of happiness and health in sobriety. You can make the decision to seek help now and begin building a brighter future on the rewarding journey of recovery. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, is staffed with knowledgeable and compassionate detoxification professionals dedicated to ensuring that all clients have a safe and positive start to the treatment process. For information about Detoxification and other treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431