Learn the Difference between Addiction and Dependence.

Addiction or Dependence? Understanding the Difference

The field of addiction science is rapidly expanding, and the understanding of how drugs and alcohol impact us both physically and mentally is offering new insights into the complexities of substance use disorder.

When it comes to substance use and abuse, there is no one way for how someone’s body and mind may be affected. Though certain substances carry a greater risk of dependence – and potentially addiction – there are many factors that are involved in the development of substance use disorder.

The difference between body-based substance interactions and brain-based substance interactions is what separates dependence from addiction. Knowing the distinction is helpful in understanding a person’s relationship to a substance, and what type of services or treatment are needed in order to stop using it. 

What is Addiction?

The understanding of addiction is constantly evolving as new studies and research counter longstanding stereotypes and myths. A major breakthrough in modern times has been the recognition of addiction as a disease, now correctly termed as substance use disorder (SUD). This awareness has helped to pull people away from antiquated ideas about SUD as a lack of willpower or morality, and into a holistic understanding of the complex ways in which substances interact with a person’s brain and body.

Addiction and the Brain

When we engage in a pleasurable activity – eating a delicious meal, winning a prize, having a beer after a long day – we activate our brain’s reward pathway, which stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes us feel relaxed and happy, and links to our motivation and memory. This is a natural reaction to that which we enjoy, and imprints in our minds a sense of fondness and anticipation of when we might do such a thing again.

The brain’s reaction to addictive substances like alcohol, heroin, or nicotine is different because these drugs cause a powerful surge of dopamine that is intense, fast, and reliable. The brain quickly learns and remembers this unusual feeling, spurring a strong motivation, or craving, to experience this sensation again. 

As addiction progresses, tolerance builds, and more and more of a substance is required to get a similar effect. Not only does this push your physical limits, but it also depletes the brain’s natural dopamine levels, eliminating your ability to take pleasure from almost anything else, and even limiting the feeling you get from using. However, because of the way that the brain has been essentially rewired by a substance, it is extremely difficult to simply stop using.

Signs of Addiction

It is normal for people who have an SUD to be in denial about it, even if others have expressed concern or their SUD has begun to negatively impact their life. However, the identification of some common signs can help confirm if an addiction has taken hold. These may include:

  • Continued use of a prescription drug after it is no longer needed
  • Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed
  • Preoccupation with alcohol or drugs
  • Unable to maintain limits on use set by yourself or others
  • Continued use despite one’s own concerns or the concerns of others
  • Difficulty fulfilling professional or personal obligations
  • Engaging in dangerous activities, such as driving while under the influence
  • Attempts to conceal use
  • Changes in mood or physical appearance
  • Changes in sleeping patterns

If you suspect that you or someone you love may have a substance use disorder, it is critical to talk to a specialist about options for treatment. Addiction is a disease that requires professional care and guided strategies for management, similar to diabetes or asthma. Getting the right kind of support early on can make a significant difference in the speed and ease of recovery.

What is Dependence?

Dependence occurs when you experience a physical adaptation to a substance that usually causes physical symptoms of withdrawal after you stop using it. Symptoms can range significantly in their severity, from the annoyance of a caffeine headache when you skip your regular morning cup of coffee, to delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can be life-threatening.

A physical dependence can occur even without addiction. For example, those who take certain types of prescription medication such as opioids may inadvertently develop a physical dependence. In order to finish a course of medication, doctors will gradually reduce the amount of medicine taken as opposed to immediately stopping it. This process gives the body time to wean itself off of the drug and reduce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Understanding Dependence and Detox

With certain types of substances, the level of physical dependence on the drug can be extreme, with dangerous and even fatal consequences if the person suddenly stops using it. Such drugs require medically-assisted detox, where medical professionals can slowly ease a person off of a substance, or prescribe other medications to help manage symptoms of withdrawal or cravings. Substances that tend to require medically-assisted detox include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Xanax or Klonopin)
  • Heroin 
  • Prescription opioids

While some people choose to try to detox alone for a variety of reasons, this carries many serious risks due to the nature of physical dependency. It is strongly recommended to speak to a specialist about how to detox in order to ensure both the success of your recovery, as well as your physical safety during the process.

Understanding and Healing from Substance Use Disorder at The Dawn

Understanding and Healing from Substance Use Disorder at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab in Thailand fosters an environment of healing and growth for those looking to recover from substance use. At The Dawn our Signature Addiction Programme for individuals struggling with substance addiction, behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. 

Our primary objective is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by understanding the root causes of their disorder, and equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges. We work closely with each client to develop a customised treatment plan based on their specific needs and goals.

24-hour Medical Support and On-site Detox

The Dawn offers medically-assisted detox for our clients. Our round-the-clock on-site professional nursing team carefully monitors clients throughout this process under the supervision of our psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication as necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Options for Long-Term Rehab

Clients who choose The Dawn may opt to participate in long-term rehab that focuses on in-depth mental health treatment and further guidance through the continuum of care. This includes detox, addiction and mental health treatment, a step-down programme, and an aftercare plan. Instead of spending four weeks in treatment and then heading home, this rehab model is generally eight weeks to 90 days, and is flexible, all-inclusive and can be extended based on the unique needs of the client.

Our staff at The Dawn have many years of experience successfully treating people with substance use disorder. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you overcome addiction and dependency, and regain control of your life.

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