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Addiction Vs. Dependence, are they the same?

Without going into a lot of details, the short answer is probably no, and unfortunately the line between the two is pretty grey, but there is a definitely more to it…

A drug “addiction” is generally defined as compulsive, drug-seeking behavior which is due to physical and/or mental dependency on a drug, despite knowingly causing damage to oneself and others regardless of consequence. Most people associate drug addiction with illegal drugs like cocaine, meth or heroin, but the truth is that people can easily become addicted to prescription drugs that were originally prescribed by their doctor.

An individual with a drug “dependence” may not exhibit the compulsive drug-seeking behavior and may have a more normal and collected appearance in life. This doesn’t only include drugs, but can also include the moderate-to-heavy social drinker who has three alcoholic drinks several nights per week or more. You may as well additionally include the millions of people who take prescribed drugs on a daily basis.

As I mentioned before, there is a fine line between dependency and addiction, and a person who is dependent can very easily become addicted. What happens if a drinker gets cut off at the bar? A lot of times, they become belligerent and will go to another bar or store to buy more alcohol, which would be an all too common example of compulsive drug (or alcohol) seeking. They may not even know they are an alcoholic yet but these are the first signs not to ignore.

Another factor, which most people are unaware of, is tolerance. This can absolutely play a role in dependence turning into addiction. An example of this might be someone being prescribed a narcotic painkiller after an injury or surgery. They takes it as prescribed for the recommended time period, but when the medication use stops, the user goes into withdrawals because their body became dependent on it. The next reaction, in a lot of scenarios, would be that they have to get more of the drug to not feel those withdrawal symptoms anymore. They’re basically trapped into use – which leads to addiction.

Learning disability labeled teenagers being put on amphetamines (stimulants) is another common example. These are legally prescribed drugs, by doctors and/or psychiatrists. The children can naturally develop a tolerance to these drugs and then need more, something stronger. In many cases of illegal drug use by teens, it comes on the heels of a long history of Ritalin, Prozac, etc.

So, the one thing we do know is, despite different characteristics and definitions, one does have to be drug dependent to be an addict, but the line  certainly isn’t definite when it is crossed. And, knowing how easily this can happen, it’s extremely important to pay attention. Pay attention to yourself, if you find that you need to take a prescription painkiller. Pay attention to your kids. And, if you find yourself knowing of or learning about someone with a dependence, help them get into a good detox program before it leads to addiction.

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