People may interchange substance addiction and substance dependence. After all, it’s easy to confuse the two terms. Depending on which organization or specialist you’re talking to, some may have the same definition, some may have different ones, and some may even not use either terms altogether. Take for example the scientific community, which prefers the term “substance use disorder.”
Let’s take a closer look.
Addiction versus dependence
If we are to define addiction and dependence, however, there’s a key difference. Dependence usually refers to the physical dependence on a substance. There’s tolerance and withdrawal. People may physicall be dependent on something without being addicted, like they can cut down on a substance, experience withdrawal, and yet be able to move on. However, dependence often precedes addiction.
Meanwhile, addiction is marked by a change in behavior because of continued substance abuse. Aside from being dependent, the brain itself becomes markedly changed. The substance becomes the priority of the addict, and despite many efforts to cut down, even after experiencing withdrawal symptoms, people would still end up going back to using. In other words, there’s both a mental and physical dependence on the substance when addiction is involved.
So what’s the difference between mental dependence and physical dependence?
Mental dependence occurs when the mind gets triggered to use, causing the person to strongly, compulsively crave for the substance despite harmful consequences. A trigger can be anything, from driving by the place where they get drugs, to seeing a spoon that is used to administer the substance, or even just listening to music.
Substance abuse and substance dependence
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defined abuse and dependence as two separate and distinct yet related disorders. However, this has recently changed and there is no distinction between the two.
This diagnostic manual now defines abuse and dependence on a scale, with abuse an early stage of dependence.
Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association (APA), uses “substance use disorder” to banish the confusion surrounding “dependence.” Substance use disorder now refers to people who need help, but may not necessarily have a debilitating addiction.
The bottom line
It’s important to understand the difference between addiction and substance dependence. This can help you better understand the nature of addiction. It’s important to see that dependence may be present without addiction, although frequently, dependence may lead to addiction.