How Are Drug Addiction & Dependence Different?
During a court hearing in July 2023, the son of United States President Joe Biden took the witness stand in a criminal case underscored by his struggles with substance use disorder. As part of an effort to avoid a prison sentence for lying on his tax returns and during a background check to purchase a firearm, Hunter Biden explained that his criminal behavior was underscored by the six times he entered rehabilitation programs and relapsed during two decades of alcoholism and cocaine abuse. This case continues to receive considerable news coverage, and the headlines it has generated often feature the terms “addiction” and “dependence” interchangeably. Let’s see what these terms mean and how they sometimes differ.
The Substance Use Disorder Spectrum
Clinically speaking, substance use disorder isn’t monolithic. It’s a condition that can be negligible, mild, severe, or fatal. Dependence is rarely a concern in the negligible and mild stages of substance use disorder, but the risk is always there. You may hear dependence being called addiction once the disorder devolves into the severe stage. Nonetheless, these are synonyms you can safely use to describe compulsive behavior that requires treatment.
Chemical Dependence & Psychological Addiction
In the medical sciences, all instances of dependence are neurochemical even if they don’t manifest physiologically. An alcoholic who decides to go cold turkey and suffers from delirium tremens episodes has become physically or chemically dependent. Another alcoholic may not get delirium tremens at all, but if the individual is lapsing and failing to get his or her life together, he or she has developed a pathological habituation that’s more commonly referred to as addiction. Opioid addicts and alcoholics are more likely to fall into chemical dependence, while stimulant addicts are more frequently affected by psychological addiction. In both cases, the neurochemistry of patients has been affected.
Treating Dependence & Addiction
Substance abuse has to be properly diagnosed before a treatment plan can be formulated. Some patients will only exhibit chemical dependence or psychological addiction, but many others will suffer from issues compounded by both conditions. Alcoholics who experience strong cravings may need medications to avoid potentially dangerous delirium tremens and seizures while they dry out, but if their severe disorders are driven by compulsion, they may need to enter sober living homes. Solana Beach residents who do so can get the help they need to take gradual steps toward sobriety.
When Addiction Becomes Problematic
Neurochemical dependence becomes a severe addiction when patients feel a powerful and compulsive need to use drugs or alcohol even when they know it’s harmful to them. This is when some patients end up engaging in risky or destructive behaviors to get drunk or high. Other patients may also feel like they need the drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions.
Not everyone who experiences chemical or psychological dependence will develop addictions. Nonetheless, they can easily fall into them if they don’t properly address their dependence. Addiction turns into a dangerous problem when patients ignore side effects and prefer to use instead of managing responsibility in their lives. When this happens, it’s usually because dependence is being exacerbated by errors in thinking and compulsion.
Newly sober men who need help with avoiding relapse can call on the compassionate team at Casa Pacifica. Along with providing Solana Beach sober living housing for men, we work with our residents to develop customized individual plans that combine treatment, aftercare, and recovery support. Our services include sober companionship, coaching, and mentorship for those who are recovering from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. To learn more about our sober living facilities, call us today at (760) 230-2996.