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Addiction Versus Dependence Versus Tolerance When It Comes to Substance Abuse

two people talk about addiction vs dependence

Struggling with substance abuse can come in many forms. From alcohol addiction to prescription drug abuse, there are stages to every kind of addiction. By doing some research, you will find a sea of terms to navigate about the topic and can even find addiction quizzes to complete. These terms may have slightly different meanings and usually correspond to a certain point in someone’s addiction progression.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, getting help sooner than later could be life-saving. Northpoint Recovery offers a full range of addiction treatment options, from detox to rehab. Call us at 888.296.8976 today to get started.

How Does Addiction Start?

Addiction is a complicated disease with many factors. From genetic factors and your environment to your mental health history and life experiences, nearly every part of life affects addiction.

However, addiction cannot start until someone starts abusing a substance. Substance abuse is when a person uses drugs or alcohol so heavily, inappropriately, and often enough that it begins to disrupt their daily life.

For example, if a person has a drink or two with dinner twice a week, they likely are not abusing alcohol. However, if that person began drinking heavily every day, and it adversely affected their health, relationships, and job, they have likely reached the point of alcohol abuse.

The same can be said when someone takes prescription medications against the prescribed directions. Many times this is how addiction to painkillers can start. After feeling the relief of the medicine, a person may begin taking the prescription more often and at a higher dose. If their doctor stops the prescription, they make seek it out through illegal means when they become addicted.

What Is Dependence?

When a person continues to abuse substances, even after they begin having adverse effects on their health, relationships, and job, they have become dependent on the substance.

Dependence is the next step in the addiction progression and is a severe warning sign for everyone involved, including those who witness the person becoming dependent.

Some warning signs of substance dependence are:

  • Poor work or school performance
  • Negative feelings toward friends and family
  • Excess use of money for drugs or alcohol
  • Skipping work or social functions or showing up under the influence
  • Constantly looking or complaining about being sick

After becoming dependent on a substance, a person will likely do whatever they need to do to continue to get it. And, the more times they use it, they will need increasingly higher doses to feel the same effect.

Substance Tolerance

Abusing and becoming dependent on a substance are clear progressions of addiction. How does tolerance play a part?

Tolerance is a person’s ability to react normally to a substance at different doses. For example, a person who doesn’t drink often may feel impaired after one or two drinks. But, someone who drinks daily may not feel anything until after four or five drinks.

Just because a person does not feel impaired does not mean they are sober. Physical reactions like speech, vision, and movement are likely impaired, but a tolerant person will not perceive the impairment.

As addicted people become more tolerant of the substance they abuse, they will continue to take higher and more frequent doses to feel the effects. As this happens, they are more likely to:

  • Spend more money on the substance
  • Miss work or school
  • Skip out on family events
  • Be expelled or fired

Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Recovery

The progression of addiction can be fast and isolating. Getting help as soon as possible can help lessen withdrawal symptoms and increase the chances of successful recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, do not wait to get help. Our treatment centers can help you learn the skills you need to break the cycle of addiction and regain control of your life. Contact us at 888.296.8976 today to get started.