Drug Dependence vs. Addiction: What’s the Difference?

October 22, 2019 | addiction treatment

Drug dependence vs addiction DayBreak Blog

Drug Dependence vs. Addiction

When discussing substance use disorder, the terms addiction and drug dependence often are used. The differences between all of these terms can be challenging to understand. What do each of these terms mean, and which words are correct?

Drug dependence vs addiction DayBreak Blog


When someone uses the term “dependence,” they are usually referring to when a person becomes physically dependent on drugs or alcohol. Once a person develops a tolerance, meaning they need more in order to feel the same effects, they are dependent.

If they stop using suddenly, they will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be life-threatening. Dependence can also be mental.

Certain activities may induce a biochemical response that causes a person to want to use. Triggers can be emotional responses to a variety of things, such as people, places, or events. Dependence can happen with illegal drugs or prescription drugs, especially if taken for an extended period of time.

Once someone has become dependent, they must detox in a medically supervised setting. Some types of drugs require a gradual reduction as opposed to stopping all at once.


Addiction is the term that people often use to describe the behavioral changes that take place with substance abuse. When using alters the way a person acts or changes behavior when they are not using, they are addicted.

A person who is addicted is also dependent. A person who is said to be addicted is a person who compulsively uses drugs or alcohol despite any negative consequences. They are unable to stop using.

There are changes in the brain that cause a person to seek out their substance of choice, no matter the cost. Once these changes take place, they experience powerful cravings and sometimes find themselves doing things that they would never have before to satisfy the cravings.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance Use Disorder (SUD), also known as drug use disorder, is the term used to describe the medical condition that many people refer to as addiction or drug abuse.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term addiction should no longer be used. Substance Use Disorder is the correct medical term to describe drug or alcohol abuse. Substance use may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. The criteria for a diagnosis of SUD include:

  • Taking a substance longer than you need to, or in larger doses, than needed.
  • Wanting to reduce the amount taken or stop using but not being able to.
  • Spending a large amount of time acquiring, using, or recovering from use.
  • Being unable to meet requirements at work, school, or home because of substance use.
  • A strong desire to use when not using.
  • No longer participating in social or recreational activities because of substance use.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using.
  • Continuing to use even when in dangerous or unhealthy situations.
  • Continuing to use despite recognizing that there is a problem.
  • Developing a tolerance to the substance.
  • Continuing to use despite causing problems in personal or professional relationships.

If you suspect that you or someone you love is dealing with substance use disorder, seek help right away. Let us show you how we can help at Daybreak Treatment Solutions.

From supervised detox to relapse prevention planning, we will give you the tools that you need to overcome this disease. You don’t have to do this alone. Contact us at Daybreak Treatment Solutions today.

DayBreak is NOT just another drug rehab center – it is a treatment solution founded on the core principles of change. Relapse no longer needs to be a part of your story, call us when you are ready for a life rediscovered…844-447-3239