image of a girl holding a question mark sign in the air - addiction versus dependence - is there a difference?  Summit BHC addiction treatment centers and drug addiction detox centers in Louisiana Texas and CaliforniaThe words addiction and dependence are constantly intermingled, so is there a difference in addiction versus dependence? Yes, an important distinction must be made between addiction versus dependence. Though they can co-occur, they can appear separately as well.

Let’s Talk About Addiction

Let’s talk about addiction. For simplicity’s sake, we will just discuss addiction as it pertains to drugs and alcohol. Addiction can be generally defined as a powerful and harmful compulsion to regularly use some sort of substance. It is a sickness that is a result of consumption of a substance that can be gratifying, but the use becomes uncontrollable and affects the user’s responsibilities, relationships, and health. The users may not be cognizant that their behavior is out of control and instigating problems for others and themselves. Addiction is not necessarily linked with dependence, but they do often overlap. People compulsively use drugs and alcohol nearly always in reaction to some sort of emotional or mental state beyond their control, whether or not they have a physical dependence. When discussing addiction, it is imperative to understand the source is not merely a pursuit for gratification, and that addiction has zero to do with one’s morals or willpower.

Now, Let’s Discuss Dependence

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines dependence as (1) a state in which an organism functions normally only in the presence of a drug (2) manifested as a physical disturbance when the drug is removed (withdrawal). This statement, generally speaking, communicates that for dependence to be present the body will not function normally without the substance, and the body will suffer from withdrawal symptoms if a sufficient amount of time lapses without the use of the drug.

To conclude, there is a difference between addiction versus dependence, however they may occur with one another. In many cases, there will be an addiction, but the user will not go into withdrawals if they cannot obtain the substance. Conversely, a person may be physically dependent on a substance, but not have an addiction to that substance. Then of course, there will be incidents where both addiction and dependence are present.

Addiction Versus Dependence: Both May Require Medical Attention

No matter the known factor, in each case, medical attention, and even perhaps an intervention, may be necessary. Whether addicted, dependent, or both, in many cases some form of a safe detoxification, possibly an addiction treatment program, or both may be needed.

In Either Case, What Can I Do if My Loved One Needs Help?

It is always wise to do some research. Depending on the substance in which your loved one may be addicted and/or dependent, different signs and symptoms may be present. Research the detox and rehab centers near you. Many of them will be more than happy to provide you with a plethora of information on the next right step for you and your loved one.

Attention: If you’re loved one is having a medical emergency, call 911.

Whether your loved one struggles with addiction versus dependence on drugs, alcohol, or both – we can help. Please feel free to contact us anytime.

(2007 January). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. Retrieved from