woman pouring out pills and showing a physical dependence

Physical Dependence Is Not The Same As Addiction

Sometimes you will hear someone use the words “dependence” and “addiction” interchangeably. Is it possible to be physically dependent on drugs or alcohol and not be addicted? Yes, it is. Some drugs, particularly opioids, develop physical dependency in a short period of time requiring a professional opioid addiction treatment to recover successfully. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), physical dependence doesn’t equal addiction. Dependency can accompany addiction, and it can make it harder to recover, especially without help.

What Causes Physical Dependence?

Many substances can cause physical dependence, including some that could surprise you, like caffeine and sugar. When you regularly ingest any substance which affects your biochemistry, your body can develop a need for the substance to maintain its natural balance or equilibrium.

If you are physically dependent, your body and you need the substance to function normally. When you stop using the substance you’re dependent upon, you experience withdrawal symptoms.

Are Dependence And Tolerance The Same?

The physical dependence on drugs or alcohol is similar to tolerance, but it’s not the same thing. You develop a tolerance for drugs or alcohol the more often you take them. Over time, you need more of the drug or need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect.

For example, with alcohol, your liver makes enzymes to break down the alcohol that you drink and metabolize it. The more alcohol you drink, the more your liver makes these enzymes. Over time, you can drink a lot of alcohol to feel the same effects as you did when you started drinking and your body had lower levels of liver enzymes.

Opioids, from heroin to prescription painkillers, naturally develop tolerance due to the way they affect the opioid receptors in your central and peripheral nervous system. Any substance that can develop tolerance can also develop a dependency. Addiction can occur without physical dependency, and you can also physically dependent on a substance without being addicted. In any case, addiction requires individualized addiction treatment programs to ensure lasting recovery.

What Are Some Physical Dependence Symptoms?

Physical symptoms of dependence result when you stop taking a substance you’ve developed a dependence on. Addiction specialists also refer to physical dependence symptoms as withdrawal symptoms. Whichever name they’re called, the symptoms vary, from relatively mild flu-like symptoms to severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, and heart rhythm abnormalities.

If you’re withdrawing from alcohol, for example, some symptoms can be alarming. You may see or feel things that aren’t there. You may have tremors or even seizures.

If you’re withdrawing from opioid use, the process can be very uncomfortable and difficult. You can have muscle spasms, hot or cold flashes, stomach cramps, body aches, insomnia, and a pounding heart.

How Can Substance Dependence Affect Your Recovery?

Withdrawing from drugs or alcohol if you’re dependent presents real physical challenges. Wanting to avoid painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms isn’t the same thing as addiction. You need to cope with physical dependency symptoms before you can start your recovery from drug and alcohol use.

Medically-supervised detox programs can help you to overcome the symptoms of dependency. They provide a safe and comfortable place where your body can begin to adjust to being drug or alcohol-free. While you’re in medically-supervised detox, your healthcare team will monitor your vital signs and help you to cope with any withdrawal symptoms. You may experience some uncomfortable symptoms but you will be much safer and more comfortable in a supervised, supportive setting. Depending on your needs, some medications may be available to help to ease the detox process.

Get Help To Recover With Promises Behavioral Health

Physical withdrawal can be painful, uncomfortable, and can come with health risks. You can safely overcome withdrawal as comfortably as possible with help from an experienced team of professionals who’ll offer medical supervision and support. Promises Behavioral Health offers medically-supervised detox programs for alcohol and drug dependency. Promises Behavioral Health can help you to overcome physical dependency and begin the next phase of your recovery journey. Contact us to begin your recovery today at 844.875.5609.