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Addiction vs. Chemical Dependency

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The difference between chemical dependency and addiction can be confusing for someone outside of the medical community as the terms seem quite similar. However, the two terms while similar hold different meanings.

Chemical dependency refers to a chemical that causes a physical dependence. For instance, a tolerance to the substance or the presence of withdrawal symptoms when substance use is removed from the equation is an example of chemical dependency. Addiction, on the other hand, can be defined as a change in behavior as a result of chemical dependency.

Who is at Risk and How?

People who use prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or drink alcohol are often are highly susceptible to developing chemical dependency and addiction often shortly follows. Either the tolerance that they have developed or the fear of withdrawal symptoms promotes the the addictive behavior and it can spiral out of control quickly.

People will become stuck in vicious cycle of feeding their physical and chemical dependence while building a large tolerance to their substance of choice. This is also know as Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

Chemical Dependency Side Effects

The side effects of dependency can also be seen as warning signs of addiction. Symptoms of addiction will also vary depending on the substance or chemical that they have become dependent upon. Side effects that are the most common signs of addiction include the following: 

  • Lying to loved ones & family members 
  • Becoming obsessive about the substance (drug or alcohol)
  • Severe change in personality
  • Struggling with employment or education responsibilities
  • Clear change in priorities

In short, you can define an addiction as a need to fulfill your physical dependency despite the negative consequences that may be associated with that action. 

If you are unsure, listed below are the most popular causes for addiction:

Popular Causes for Addiction

  • Environmental risk factors: Environmental influences of alcoholism include parental supervision, peers, poverty, community, and availability of alcohol.
  • Genetics: Addictions are heritable conditions. Genetics play a role in the initiation of alcohol abuse and the development of alcoholism. This means that if your parents or another close relative has an alcohol addiction, that you have an increased risk for becoming addicted as well. Alcohol, specifically, has a heritability of about .55, which means that 55% of alcoholism can be attributed to genes 2.
  • Trauma: Traumatic events, or adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, parental separation or divorce, and mental health disorders or substance abuse within the household, can increase the risk of underage drinking and alcohol abuse problems in adulthood 3.
  • Mental health: Alcoholism often co-occurs with mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders 1.

If you or someone you love is dealing with the symptoms mentioned above and may be exposed to any of the situations also recently mentioned, you should consider asking for help.

It is possible for individuals to recover from chemical dependency or addiction on their own. However, they stand a a much greater chance of a successful recovery with supervised medical and psychological help.

Addiction Withdrawal & Detox

An addiction detoxification program enables an individual to overcome their physical dependency on the substance in a suitable and safe environment. Substitute medications, such as Suboxone and methadone, are also used in some substance abuse treatment cases. These help to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.

While it is possible to attend detoxification as either an inpatient or an outpatient, the administration of substitute medicine needs to be carried out under the supervision of a physician or pharmacist. Intensive rehabilitation programs, running every day, over a number of weeks, are available for people who have a severe dependency.

Counseling for Addiction

Addiction and chemical dependency counseling are available for people at any level of treatment. Counseling will focus on the problem of addiction faced by the individual and then works with behavioral therapy and other methods to eliminate the use of the addictive substance.

Therapy, usually cognitive and behavioral, play an important role in a person’s quest for a successful recovery. While a chemical detox will help most people with their physical dependence, psychological dependency is usually the toughest to break.

When an individual has been addicted to something for any length of time, it becomes hard for them to imagine life without it. The person may even believe that without a particular drug or alcohol, they would be unable to function properly or feel normal. Chemical dependence counseling helps the individual understand their addiction, as well as educating them on the adverse effects it has had on their life.

Improving coping skills is another strategy, as this will help them learn to deal with stress and problems in their life without turning to alcohol or drugs. The therapist will also educate the individual on understanding and avoiding their triggers.

Ultimately, individuals need to be clear on the high-risk situations that make them most likely to abuse the substance again. Knowing how to identify these situations before they happen and understanding how to cope with them if they are unavoidable is often the largest take-away from counseling. As a result, a combination of counseling and professional detox and counseling is the best chance most people have at achieving sobriety and subduing their addiction and chemical dependence.

How American Addiction Centers Can Help

As a leading addiction treatment provider in the United States, American Addiction Centers focuses on not only treating the addiction itself but more importantly the causes that led to its development. At American Addiction Centers, treatment is specialized to meet the needs of each person.

Our treatment model focuses on identifying any existing mental illnesses or mental health issues that may stimulate the need to cope with issues by using alcohol or drugs.

Our treatment facilities then focus on providing an initial support system for those attending treatment and teach them healthier ways to cope with their addiction.

We offer a full continuum of care that encompasses the primary types of treatment all the way from detox for those initially struggling to aftercare options like sober-living, counseling sessions, and support groups for those maintaining their recovery.

To find out more, or to get started, American Addiction Centers operates a confidential addiction hotline available 24/7 to help people find their path to recovery.

We can be reached at .

Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?

Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides: