Physical Dependence Explained
What Is Physical Dependence?
Drug dependence – also known as substance dependence – is a condition in which the repeated use of a specific substance (which could be legal – i.e. alcohol or prescription medication – or illicit) causes the user’s body to adapt to the regular presence of that substance, and to depend upon it for normal functioning. Upon cessation of use (when the user stops taking the substance in question) the user’s system may react to the “abnormal” absence of the substance by the manifestation of various (frequently unpleasant) symptoms collectively known as withdrawal.
What Causes Physical Dependence?
Physical dependence develops as a result of repeated consumption of a given substance over a comparatively short period (merely taking the substance once will not cause dependence; nor will consuming it numerous times but with large gaps between each instance of use). Addiction as a psychological disorder is known to be caused by changes in brain chemistry (in particular, in the parts of the brain known as the amygdala and the ventral tegmental area) and the same goes for physical dependence, though the precise mechanisms are not fully understood and different parts of the brain are believed to be responsible for dependence on different substances of abuse.
It should be borne in mind that physical dependence is not addiction, and the two terms should not be used interchangeably. It is possible for someone to be physically dependent upon, say, a medication without being (psychologically) addicted to it.
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What Are the Types of Physical Dependence?
While dependence itself cannot really be divided into different “types”, the withdrawal symptoms which can follow cessation of use in a dependent individual may differ from one substance to another, and therefore one person’s experience of dependence may also be different from another’s
What Are the Symptoms of Physical Dependence?
The symptoms of dependence manifest in withdrawal syndrome, and as noted one case of withdrawal may differ from another depending on the substance in question and various other factors (including the age and physiology of the user, the duration of addiction, dosages and methods of consumption etc). Along with cravings for the substance in question, which tend to be common across all instances of withdrawal, there are a huge number of potential withdrawal symptoms; for more information see our page on ‘Withdrawal’ at INSERT LINK TO APPROPRIATE PAGE HERE.
How Is Physical Dependence Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of dependence would typically rely upon the identification of withdrawal symptoms in someone who is known to have recently stopped taking a particular substance.
What that substance is will determine the nature and duration of withdrawal symptoms, and doctors must be sure of getting as full and accurate as possible an account of the patient’s substance abuse, since withdrawal can be a dangerous condition – and in the case of alcohol and benzodiazepines, can actually be fatal without the correct medical attention.
How Is Physical Dependence Treated?
Dependence is typically treated via detoxification (detox), abstinence following cessation of use during which withdrawal syndrome may manifest. Detox is typically monitored by medical professionals for the patient’s safety (especially important, as noted, in cases of alcohol and benzodiazepine addiction) and certain medications may be prescribed to alleviate some of the more distressing symptoms of withdrawal.
In the case of some substances, especially heroin and other opioids, a process of substitution is sometimes employed whereby a different type of the substance in question is prescribed temporarily to make withdrawal easier to manage; in the case of heroin, for example, longer-acting opioids such as methadone may be prescribed, to reduce cravings and alleviate the worst symptoms over a slower and more gradual withdrawal process.
Ready to get Help for Your Addiction?
If you have developed a physical dependence to any substance of abuse, alongside a psychological addiction, it will make overcoming that addiction all the more daunting – but not as daunting as the prospect of spending your whole life under the burden of addiction. If you are ready to acknowledge your condition and to ask for help, you are ready to begin to receive the help you need.
Get help today
In any case addiction and dependence time is of the essence, so don’t delay: contact your GP and/or an addiction specialist today to discuss what treatment options may be available to you.
Take control of your life – get started on the road to recovery
The pressure of physical dependence may make you feel you’ve completely lost control of your life – but you can take back that control with professional help. Speak to your GP and/or an addiction specialist and take the first steps back to happiness.
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