What is Drug Dependence?
Drug dependence occurs when you require one or more drugs to function normally. You may have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure or chronic pain, which requires you to take drugs to maintain your quality of life. This might be considered “drug dependence,” but is probably not a problem. Drug dependence becomes a health concern, however, when an individual abuses illegal or prescription drugs.
Intermittent abuse can evolve into dependence. Eventually, you can’t live a normal life without the drug. You may use larger doses or other types of drugs to overcome the tolerance that develops with regular use.
Addiction vs. Dependence
Drug addiction and drug dependence are sometimes interchangeable. Many addicts depend on drugs to function. It is possible, however, to be dependent on drugs without being addicted. This often occurs if you rely on medications to control a chronic medical condition. It is also possible to be addicted to drugs without your body becoming dependent on them.
Characteristics of Addiction
- use of drugs despite the consequences
- inability to stop using drugs
- neglect of social and work obligations
Characteristics of Dependence
Features of dependence may include some or all of the features of addiction, plus:
- high tolerance as the body physically adapts to the drug, often leading to the desire for larger or more frequent doses
- physical symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to stop using the drug
How Drug Abuse Can Lead to Dependence
Drug addicts often begin using drugs socially and become dependent over time. In some cases, drugs may have been initially prescribed to treat a medical condition (e.g. pain medication). This normal and safe use can sometimes develop into abuse and dependence.
Compulsive drug use may be triggered by:
- a family history of addiction (addictive personalities may be genetic, and watching family members abuse substances can make drugs seem more normal or desirable)
- living in an environment where illegal drugs are frequently used and easy to access
- a history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions
Read more about drug dependence and addiction at Healthline.com