Chemical Dependency vs Addiction

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He has a chemical dependency problem. She’s been struggling with addiction. To most people, these sentences probably sound like two ways of describing the same experience. Among experts, though, there are some important differences between chemical dependency vs. addiction. 

Definition of Chemical Dependency

Before we discuss the similarities and differences between chemical dependency vs. addiction, it can be helpful to look at each term on its own.

Also sometimes referred to as drug dependency or dependence, chemical dependency describes a biological phenomenon. When a person takes certain substances for certain periods, their body will adapt to the presence of these substances. This can lead to the two primary characteristics of chemical dependence, tolerance and withdrawal:

  • Tolerance: Over time, a person may begin to notice that a substance doesn’t have the same effect that it used to. Tolerance can mean that an individual needs to begin using larger amounts of a drug in order to experience the effect they are seeking.
  • Withdrawal: When a person abruptly stops using a substance that they have become dependent on – or when they are prevented from acquiring it and using it – their body may react with a variety of unpleasant symptoms. This experience is known as withdrawal.

Chemical dependency is often (but not always) a precursor to addiction.

Define Addiction

Addiction is a behavioral health disorder. It involves a loss of control over how much of a substance a person uses and how often they use it. 

When a person becomes addicted to a drug, they will spend significant amounts of time thinking about it, using it, and recovering from its effects. Even after experiencing harm as a result of prior use (such as job loss, the end of a relationship, physical health problems, or being arrested), they will continue to use the substance.

Other characteristics of addiction include failing to meet responsibilities due to compulsive substance use and using the substance in particularly hazardous ways (such as by combining it with other dangerous drugs).

Similarities Between Chemical Dependency vs. Addiction

There’s a reason why chemical dependency and addiction are frequently used synonymously. The two conditions share several features, such as:

  • Both chemical dependency and addiction can involve legal and illicit substances.
  • Someone who develops either chemical dependence or addiction may have a difficult time ending their use of the substance that they have become dependent on or addicted to.
  • Chemical dependency and addiction can both be life-threatening concerns.
  • Both conditions fall under the definition of “substance use disorder” as established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 
  • Even after decades of public education campaigns, chemical dependency and addiction remain widely misunderstood and are often stigmatized.

Differences Between Chemical Dependency vs. Substance Use Disorder

Here are a few of the key differences between chemical dependency vs. addiction:

  • Chemical dependency isn’t always a serious problem. For example, people who take prescription medications for certain medical or mental health concerns may become dependent on them. However, unlike addiction, this type of chemical dependency does not have a negative impact on the person’s health or well-being.
  • Chemical dependency is mainly a physical or biological concern, while addiction is primarily a behavioral or neurological condition.
  • Withdrawal pain, which is a symptom of chemical dependency, can often be treated with prescription medication. Treatment to address the cravings and behavioral compulsions that are characteristic of addiction usually involves therapy.
  • The symptoms of chemical dependency can be stopped. Tolerance typically subsides once a person ends their use of a substance, and withdrawal is usually a relatively short-term experience. Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease. The goal of addiction treatment isn’t to cure a person, but rather to empower them to manage their symptoms over the course of their lifetime.   

How Are Chemical Dependency and Addiction Treated?

There is no single, universally effective technique for treating chemical dependency or addiction. Instead, what’s most important is assessing the full scope of each patient’s unique needs, then developing a customized plan to address those needs.

Depending on the nature and severity of a person’s struggles with chemical dependency and/or addiction, the ideal course of treatment may involve one or more of the following programs:

If a person has become dependent on heroin, prescription painkillers, or other opioids, medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can alleviate some symptoms. In cases of severe alcoholism, benzodiazepines may also be used.

For the therapeutic component of treatment, the following services and approaches have proved to be helpful:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Holistic therapy
  • Neurofeedback therapy

Other therapeutic interventions may be appropriate for patients whose struggles with addiction are accompanied by mental health challenges. 

For example, many people who become addicted to alcohol or other drugs have also been living with untreated psychological trauma. In such cases, services such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can be extremely valuable.

Contact Renewal Health Group to Treat Chemical Dependency or Addiction

Renewal Health Group offers a full continuum of customized care to help adults whose lives have been disrupted by chemical dependency and addiction. We also offer life-affirming dual diagnosis services for patients who also have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other co-occurring mental health concerns.

Our network includes multiple chemical dependency and addiction treatment centers in Southern California. At each of our locations, you can expect to receive compassionate care and comprehensive support from a team of experienced treatment professionals. 

We understand that chemical dependency and addiction impact different people in different ways, and we are committed to providing you with a truly personalized experience while you are in our care.

To learn more about how we can help, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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