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Addiction and Chemical Dependency

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 drugs and 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.

Has Your Chemical Dependency Become an Addiction?

Symptoms of addiction will also vary depending on the substance or chemical that they have become dependent upon. The most common side effects reported by people dependent on a chemical include the following:

  • Lying to loved ones about where they are going or what they are doing
  • Becoming obsessive about the substance (drug or alcohol)
  • Severe change in personality
  • Struggling with employment or education responsibilities
  • Clear change in priorities

If you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you may be dealing with addiction and could benefit from substance abuse treatment.

If you suspect you or someone you love may be dealing with addiction, call us at American Addiction Centers. We have treatment facilities across the United States and have trusted advisors answering our toll free hotline 24/7. We can be reached at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? .

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.

Detox from Addiction

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 is available for people in 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, plays an important role in a person’s quest for a successful recovery. While a chemical detox will help most people with their physical dependence, the 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 the 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.

Do You Need Help Seeking Treatment?

If you or someone you know is struggling with chemical dependency, please feel free to call our confidential helpline at American Addiction Centers. We have facilities across the nation, advisors ready to answer your call, and are ready to help you understand what treatment options are available to you.

We can be reached at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? .


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publications.
  2. Bevilacqua, L., Goldman, D. (2009). Genes and Addictions. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 85 (4), 359-361.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences.