Addiction and dependence are two of the most misunderstood terms in rehabilitation, especially for those who seek a substance-free life.

Although addiction and dependence are related, there still exists strong characteristics which separate the two.

Of course there are some rehabilitation facilities that link addiction and dependence together. And while the scientific community now uses the term “substance abuse disorder,” others in the rehabilitation industry still go by the established standard of determining both afflictions as one in the same, though they’re not one in the same.

It’s really the definitions as well as the time frame in which addiction and dependence occur that differentiates the two.



Dependence occurs when a user builds up a tolerance to the drug he or she uses. For example, in the case of cocaine, a dependency can develop as the user seeks out the euphoria they received when they first took the drug.

As that euphoria becomes increasingly elusive, the user increases their dosage of cocaine, thus perpetuating their dependency. They now consistently need the drug on a time basis that continues to lessen between each use.



Physical dependence occurs when the body reacts to a delay or sudden stoppage of a drug that it has become used to. Symptoms of physical dependence vary between what drug a person takes, how much they take, and for how long, as well as the size and age of the person themselves.

Physical symptoms and side effects are usually the first indicators of a drug abuse problem, so be certain to understand the symptoms and signs of the drug either you or a loved one might be using to excess.

Mental dependency is simply a matter of thinking you need a drug. It can be compared to an obsession with working out, house cleaning or shopping. You want something, but by not having it, you don’t become physically ill.

You might be a bit bummed and depressed, yet you’re not vomiting or sweating profusely – two signs of physical addiction that have now turned into physical withdrawal.



Addiction occurs after dependency is established. It is highlighted by behavioral change due to biochemical fluctuations in the brain after continued substance abuse.

For many, their substance use devolves into addiction without the least amount of concern. Simply put, addicts at this point are at their lowest where all they do is live for their drug of choice. They have gone from casual users, to physically dependent users, giving them little choice but to continue onward toward addiction.

becomes the main priority of the addict, regardless of the harm they may cause to themselves or others. An addiction causes people to act irrationally when they don’t have the substance they are addicted to in their system.



If anything can be learned and understood here, it’s that addiction and dependency are not the same. One does lead to the other (dependence leads to addiction), however they aren’t in any way interchangeable. They are instead steps one unwittingly takes which lead to full addiction.

Your best bet is to learn as much as you can about the drug either your or a loved one has fallen victim to, the symptoms that drug can cause in users, then what the next plan is going forward.

Hopefully that plan will include rehabilitation. The sooner a drug addiction is recognized; the faster treatment can be applied in order to get you or your loved one on the path to sobriety.


If you feel you or a loved one has an issue with substance abuse, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

Addiction vs Dependence: They’re Not the Same