People who have never experienced addiction in any form or fashion would probably say that that there isn’t a difference in chemical dependency versus substance abuse.
The two phrases seem to be interchanged regularly. That is because they can be two sides to the same coin. What exactly is the answer to chemical dependency versus substance abuse?
Substance use disorder, or substance abuse, is a recognized medical brain disorder and refers to the abuse of illegal (such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine) or legal substances (such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs). “Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse” (Johns Hopkins University). It goes on to describe it as a pattern that begins to cause problems and distress in one’s life. Substance abuse precedes chemical dependency, but is directly related. If a substance user can quit, and once the substance has left their system, they no longer crave or obsess about the substance. This person is not suffering from addiction. If the same substance user is noticing that their using is out of control and are still unable to stop, they are now abusing the substance, they may in fact suffer from addiction.
Chemical dependence is a normal reaction to an addictive chemical. The body becomes dependent on the drug/medication/alcohol and it’s effects, and when the substance is stopped, the individual may suffer symptoms of withdrawal while the medication is leaving the system. Chemical dependency versus substance abuse can be further clarified by looking at the body’s need for the substance. An individual that suffers from a substance use disorder will obsess about the drug long after it has detoxed out of their system. An individual that does not suffer from a substance use disorder is able to proceed with their life and never even think about the medication again.
Johns Hopkins University previously described substance, or chemical, dependency as, “the medical term used to describe abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues, even when significant problems related to their use have developed.” Some such problems include withdrawal symptoms if the substance is unavailable, higher tolerance, social or health issues, and the inability to stop using even when you are aware of the negative consequences. The ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol can lead to chemical dependency. This means you are mentally and psychically dependent on the substance. One of the best examples of dependency is when an alcoholic experiences delirium tremens. Violent shaking, hallucinations, sickness, and anxiety are just some of the symptom that will occur when someone is withdrawing from alcohol. The safest way to conquer chemical dependency is clinical detoxification. Here you can be supervised and monitored by health professionals. There are safe and effective ways to properly rid the body of harmful toxins.
Chemical dependency versus substance abuse sounds similar to the age old question, which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is important to understand how addiction works, but there are still many questions that may never be answered. When pondering chemical dependency versus substance abuse, remember the important thing to remember is that treatment and recovery is possible.
The release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) version has eliminated the categories of substance abuse and substance dependence and replaced with substance use disorders. The reasoning behind this change is to eliminate any confusion between the word “dependence” and “addiction”. As stated earlier, dependence is the physiological dependence on a substance until detoxed from the chemical.
Addiction does not have to define you, or be a death sentence. Getting help is the first step to recovery, and there are scores of success stories. Even more uplifting is that many people are maintaining long-term sobriety, one day at a time.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Substance Abuse/Chemical Dependency. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2015, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org.