What is the Difference Between Drug Dependence and Drug Addiction?

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What is the Difference Between Drug Dependence and Drug Addiction

Drug and alcohol abuse can cause severe problems in all aspects of a person’s life. People who abuse addictive substances may have health problems and relationship strain. They may have emotional harm as a result of their substance use.

People sometimes use the terms “addiction” and “dependence” to mean the same thing. However, these terms describe different aspects of substance abuse. This article will explore the difference between dependence and addiction. You will learn:

  • What “addiction” means
  • What “dependence” means
  • The symptoms of addiction and dependence
  • How to recognize substance abuse and addiction
  • Where to find comprehensive treatment and continuing support

Reach out to the Archstone Behavioral Health specialists now to learn more about our holistic addiction treatment programs. Our intake team will answer your questions. They can also help verify your insurance and schedule an intake appointment quickly.

Dependence vs. Addiction: Understanding the Difference

While people may use the terms “dependence” and “addiction” to mean the same thing, they are different terms. So, what is the difference between these terms? Here is an overview of what these terms mean.


The word “addiction” describes the harmful or destructive behaviors associated with alcohol or drug abuse. Addiction changes a person’s behavior. They may compulsively use substances and continue to use them, even when it harms them.

People with addiction may not necessarily have physical reliance on drugs or alcohol. They may not experience tolerance or withdrawal symptoms related to their drug use.

They may experience:

  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Brain changes
  • Cravings

People may find it very challenging to stop using drugs or alcohol without treatment.

Some of the substances that may lead to addiction include:

  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Opioids
  • Inhalants

Doctors and addiction experts may diagnose someone who has developed an addiction with substance use disorder (SUD). This is the term that most professionals use to describe someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.


The word “dependence” describes becoming physically dependent on a drug. If people with drug dependence stop using it, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.

People with drug dependence develop tolerance to a drug, meaning their body has adjusted to a specific dose. They may need to take higher doses of a drug to feel its effects. Or, they may be able to use a large amount of a substance without appearing intoxicated.

People with physical dependence may not like the effects of the drug they are taking. They may feel ambivalent about drug use but must take the drug to avoid withdrawal.

People may develop a dependence on prescription or illicit drugs, including:

People may also develop mental dependence, meaning they rely on a substance to cope with challenging emotions. For example, someone might drink to increase social comfort or decrease stress. They may not feel compelled to drink alcohol at any other time.

Treating Dependence and Addiction

Physical dependence is a medical condition. In many cases, people require comprehensive detox programs to stop using addictive substances safely. Medically-supported detox programs may include:

  • Round-the-clock monitoring and access to treatment
  • Medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and risk of relapse
  • Mental health support, including therapy and support groups
  • Nutrition support, mindfulness, yoga, and other holistic therapies

Some people require inpatient care during detox, and some may complete an outpatient detox program.

After completing detox, people often require the support of a comprehensive rehab program to manage the symptoms of their addiction.

Addiction is a complex condition with roots in a person’s behaviors, history, genetics, and more. It is critical to treat the behavioral, psychological, and emotional aspects of substance abuse and give people skills to prevent relapse.

An addiction treatment plan may include:

  • Behavioral therapies
  • Treatment for medical and mental health issues
  • Individual therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Exercise, art therapy, yoga, mindfulness, massage, and other holistic therapies to support comfort and healing
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Coping skills
  • Aftercare planning and support programs

Participating in an addiction treatment program can give people the structure, care, and skills they need to prevent relapse.

Do I Need Addiction or Dependence Treatment?

Recognizing a problem is the first step toward getting life-changing treatment. Some signs you may require drug dependence or addiction treatment include:

  • Needing to use more of a substance to get the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop using a drug
  • Having cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time and energy getting, using, and recovering from using drugs or alcohol
  • Wanting to stop but finding it’s impossible
  • Continuing to use drugs or alcohol, even when facing extreme consequences of substance use

If you or someone you love needs treatment for drug dependence or addiction, you are not alone. Contact the Archstone Behavioral Health specialists to explore our comprehensive treatment and support programs.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Drug Misuse and Addiction
  2. American Psychiatric Association (APA): What Is a Substance Use Disorder?
  3. Springer Link: Classical Conditioning, Drug Tolerance, and Drug Dependence
  4. Science Direct: Drug Dependence
  5. Science Direct: The relationship of addiction, tolerance, and dependence to alcohol and drugs: A neurochemical approach