Chemical Dependency: What Is It and How Is It Different From Addiction?

Illustration of chemistry laboratory instruments set

The terms addiction and chemical dependency are often used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between the two. Addiction is classified as a chronic illness that, although treatable, can result in compulsive behaviors. However, chemical dependency is when the body needs a substance to prevent symptoms of withdrawal

What Causes Chemical Dependency? 

Chemical dependency develops over a period of time. It typically occurs when a person develops a tolerance to a drug and begins using more of the substance as the body adapts to the original dosage. Over time, the body will only function normally in the presence of the drug. When the substance is not present in the body, it experiences physiological reactions.    

Signs of Chemical Dependency

When a person suffering from a chemical dependence stops taking the drug in question, the chemical balance in their body is thrown off, causing that person to experience withdrawal symptoms. Some symptoms of physical withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, nausea, fatigue, a loss of appetite, sweats, and vomiting. Chemical dependency can also cause severe mood swings where the individual may become defensive, angry, hostile, and withdrawn. 

Changes in peer groups of social engagement are also a sign of chemical dependency.  A person that has developed a dependence might avoid or distance themselves from loved ones. A person who has developed a chemical dependency may also go from being socially active to isolating themselves. 

Day-to-day activities or responsibilities are greatly affected by chemical dependence. A drop in academic/work performance or a disregard for personal responsibilities is likely to occur during a chemical dependency. When a person develops a dependency, they are more likely to spend a lot of time trying to either get the substance or recover from withdrawal. 

Identifying the Difference

Although chemical dependence can lead to addiction, they are significantly different. Addiction impacts the part of the brain associated with pleasure. It causes a person to act impulsively regardless of the consequences, whereas a person who has developed a dependency needs the substance to function or relieve withdrawal symptoms.

It is imperative to recognize the signs and symptoms of chemical dependency in order to receive the proper treatment. While it differs from addiction regarding its impact on the mind and body, dependency is a dangerous complement to addiction. Treatment for both is essential for recovery to happen. Valiant Living is an all-male outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center located in beautiful Denver, CO. We offer treatment services for those battling addiction and chemical dependence. If you or someone you love would like to learn more about our services, please contact us today at (303) 952-5035.