Addiction and Dependence Explained
The term ‘dependence’ was introduced in 1964 by a World Health Organization Expert Committee to replace the words ‘addiction’ and ‘habituation’ (1). In the scientific community, dependence syndrome is defined as a combination of behavioural, physiological and cognitive phenomena whereby the user prioritizes substance abuse over other, productive activities.
The major feature of the dependence syndrome is the compelling desire to consume psychoactive drugs which may be illicit or medically prescribed.
What Is Dependence?
Drug dependence can be treated, giving the body time to adjust back to normal.
In some cases, the doctor reduces the dose of a substance gradually to minimise the withdrawal effects for patients whose dependence arose from consuming prescribed drugs such as opioid painkillers; sometimes replacement medications may be used to ease the withdrawal period.
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The Difference between Dependence and Addiction
The terms dependence and addiction are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between their meanings.
Dependence refers to a condition where a person becomes physically or psychologically dependent on a drug. This condition is characterised by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. In many cases, dependence is accompanied by addiction, although it may be possible to have a physical dependence without being addicted. (2)
In contrast, addiction is a disease caused by an adjustment in the performance that occurs as a result of the brain’s biochemical changes due to repeated drug use. At this point, drug abuse becomes our major priority, regardless of its dangerous effects. Addiction also involves mental as well as physical reliance on a drug.
Physical and Psychological Dependence
Which Drugs Cause Dependency?
Drugs that are likely to cause addiction include:
- Opioids: Examples include morphine, OxyContin, Percodan, codeine, Percocet and Vicodin.
- Central Nervous System Depressants: These include barbiturates and benzodiazepines like Xanax, Librium and Valium.
- Stimulants: Often-used stimulants include Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine and Ritalin.
Other (illegal) drugs
- Marijuana, hashish and other cannabis-containing substances
- Club drugs: Examples include acid (GHB) and ecstasy or molly (MDMA).
- Hallucinogens: These include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP).
- Inhalants: These include glue, paint thinners, correction fluid, cleaning fluids and household aerosol products.
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