Difference Between Dependence vs Addiction

Differentiating between drug addiction vs. dependence can be difficult. However, there are some distinctions that separate the two.

Physical dependence on a substance (drugs or alcohol) may be a component of addiction, but it is not the addiction itself. Dependence is characterized by symptoms of tolerance or withdrawal in the brain, and may be the consequence of one, or many, drugs. This can range from pain medications, to stimulants, depressants, and even antidepressants.

This physical dependence is an expected natural and physiological response of medications such as opioids, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, corticosteroids, etc. It is characterized by withdrawal symptoms with the patient who is unable to cope when the medication is discontinued.

Addiction, on the other hand, is not necessarily the same. Addiction is a persistent compulsion that includes physical and psychological dependence, and manifests itself through behavioral symptoms—most notably the continued use of the substance in spite of the clear harmful effects for the individual and his or her family.

And addiction, itself, is not a predictable effect of drugs, but rather a disease or personal issue that occurs within the genetics, or biology, of vulnerable individuals.

What Is Addiction?

“When one becomes addicted and ceases control of their behavior, they change their entire system of needs.”

Addiction is characterized by deterioration of control, compulsive use, continued use, and desire. Signs of addiction, rather than dependence, including drug-seeking behaviors, anxiety, concern about obtaining the drug, an interference with normal life functions, such as decreased productivity and low motivation, relationship problems and continued use despite the negative consequences.

Addiction As A Whole

addiction vs dependence in userWhile drug addiction affects the reward pathways of the brain (including the mesolimbic pathway and the mesocortical pathway), the dependency affects the thalamus and brainstem.

(More about Ibogaine treatment for addiction)

The detoxification process slowly tapers the individual off of a drug with the use of medication taken over a period of time to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Although someone suffering from addiction can end physical dependence on the drug through detoxification, the mental component of addiction remains, and maintaining sobriety can be a constant struggle without proper, additional therapy.

Physical Dependence vs. Mental Dependence

Dependence on the drug is a key concept in the whole complex of drug problems. It very accurately reflects the “interrelationships” of drug addicts and drugs. As a result of regular drug use – often within a short period of time – addiction to drugs occurs, that is, the subordination of life to drug use, and the search for resources to feed an addiction.

Other aspects of life are ignored, or they are given much less attention. A person who uses drugs, despite the risk and desire to quit, cannot refuse using drugs for any considerable time. This phenomenon is called “loss of control.” In other words, when one becomes addicted and ceases control of their behavior, they change their entire system of needs, range of interests, and overall brain chemistry.

The formation of physical dependence is conditioned by the fact that narcotic substances themselves are constantly destroyed by enzyme systems when excreted from the body. Therefore, the “stock of drugs” in the body becomes necessary to regularly replenish. As a result, physical dependence forces people to use drugs regularly, without giving any respite. If you miss the time of taking the next dose, drug abstinence begins (breakage).

Drug addiction and dependence are two different phenomena that do not affect the brain in the same way. We talk about addiction when we suffer from withdrawal and when consumption stops abruptly. Dependence is the excessive consumption of a substance, despite the harmful consequences. Opiates are both addictive and dependent, while cocaine only causes addiction. In addition, addiction affects everyone: if you are prescribed morphine as a pain treatment, after a week, you will become addicted.

“Their mind creates an extreme desire for it that can negatively impact them in many ways causing loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, and changes in appetite.”

The Syndrome Of Physical Dependence Is Characterized By The Following Clinical Signs:

  • An irresistible desire to use
  • Poor control over dosage of intake
  • Drug use in order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms
  • Developed tolerance to the drug

Psychological dependence on drugs is an emotional state that is characterized by craving, a strong desire to take drugs – either to receive associated feelings of pleasure, or to relax, disconnect from the harsh realities of everyday life, or to remove the negative feelings caused by drug abuse. For example, users of marijuana often do not think they’ve developed an addiction because they can physically go without using it. However, their mind creates an extreme desire for it that can negatively impact them in many ways causing loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, and changes in appetite.

To date, various methods of drug addiction treatment are being used in narcology, which make it possible to almost painlessly stop the withdrawal syndrome (to remove withdrawal).

To overcome the psychological dependence on drugs, drug addiction is seen as a total loss of personality, requiring a biopsychosocial approach. Rehabilitation, which includes a mandatory social adaptation of the individual in society.

“This means that some individuals can have recreational use for years without losing control.”

Can We Take A Drug Without Falling Into Addiction?

Yes. Among consumers of the most addictive substances, only 20% become addicted. This means that some individuals can have recreational use for years without losing control.

Do Different Drugs Affect The Brain The Same?

drugs affecting the brainThey are pharmacological substances and they have different effects. But all have one thing in common: they increase the concentration of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in the cerebral system of reward. In an experiment, a mouse was found to have the ability to self-stimulate the cells of the reward center. Their addiction is stronger than that which a drug can produce.

Is The Effect The Same For Alcohol And Tobacco, Or For Gambling And Sex?

Alcohol and tobacco are also pharmacological substances that act like the previous ones. With regard to gambling, sex or compulsive shopping, there is growing evidence that they, too, are increasing the release of dopamine in the center of the reward.

(Learn more about Ibogaine in our definitive guide)

How Does Addiction Start?

Substances induce a major change in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, which in turn modifies the activity of certain neuronal populations. This is what creates the pathological behavior. At first, the process takes place in the deep parts of the brain and it is only afterwards that the cortex – the cerebral cortex – intervenes as well.

Treatment of Drug Dependence vs Addiction

The treatment of drug addiction can be very complicated. Effective programs often include many components, designed to help stop the individual from taking drugs, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and fulfill their obligations to family and the workplace. Most patients require long-term treatment, which may include medications, therapy and residential programs.

Psychological Treatment Of Addiction

Treatment of drug addiction is impossible without the involvement of psychologists, as this is a daily work with the patient over his motivation.

“The patient should be completely removed from any unfavorable social environment where drugs are available.”

There is an erroneous opinion that detoxification of the body cures drug addiction. In fact, after detoxification, only physiological relief comes, the breakdown disappears, but the existing stereotypes of behavior continue to “live” in the patient’s mind. At this time the patient should be completely removed from any unfavorable social environment where drugs are available, the psychologist-motivator should work intensively with him, who, while there is time to keep the patient in isolation from the usual society, sets him up for further rehabilitation program. That is why the treatment of drug addiction in a hospital under the constant supervision of narcologists and psychologists is the only effective way out. If the patient after detoxification does not fall into the rehabilitation center, but returns home.

Methods and Methods of Treatment of Physical Dependence on Drugs

Methods of treatment for drug addiction are surrounded by many myths, which are united by one – irresponsibility and unwillingness to delve into the essence of the problem. Often, drug addicts and even their loved ones believe that opioid receptor blockers or detoxification procedures will magically heal the patient once and for all. Unfortunately, blockers give an effect only after a course of detoxification, and they can only help keep an addict from relapse. This is only an auxiliary, not the main means of treatment.

Detoxification and Blockers

detox from dependence and addictionMeasures for detoxification should be undertaken in the hospital. Some of them have contraindications as to the stress induced on the body. Detoxification usually takes five to ten days, after which a person can easily get out of bed and go out, but the craving for narcotic substances remains. This is why a rehabilitation period is required, which takes about three months on average.

“Addiction is often classified as a disease rather than a physical reaction or dependence on a substance.”


Physiotherapy is widely used in the treatment of drug dependence. It creates a minimal load on the patient’s body and does not give side effects. The main physiotherapeutic methods of drug treatment include acupuncture, massage, lymphatic drainage. Physiotherapy procedures are appointed by the course.

Intravenous Laser Irradiation of Blood

This type of light therapy is aimed at protecting against the action of aggressive oxidants, in large quantities, contained in the body of the addict. It also stimulates the immune system and normalizes metabolism, helps to fight the formation of blood clots. After intravenous laser irradiation of blood, the patient becomes more susceptible to medication and other types of therapy.


Influencing the patient’s brain with constant impulses of electric current, it is possible to immerse him in the so-called electrosleep – a special psychophysical state that contributes to the normalization of the work of all body systems. Under the influence of electrosleep, metabolism is restored, the functional state of the nervous system is improved, the toxins are accelerated.

The Takeaway of the Difference of Dependence vs. Addiction

When people call addiction “dependence” it causes confusion. Addiction is often classified as a disease rather than a physical reaction or dependence on a substance. Both classifications affect different parts of the brain. Pertaining to both, treatment can vary as well as the root cause of the problem. With these facts in mind, the correct classifications are crucial when it comes to helping the patient or person at hand.