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Chemical Dependency vs. Substance Use Disorder

Chemical Dependency vs. Substance Use Disorder

Let’s take a look at the difference between a chemical dependency and a substance use disorder.

What is a Chemical dependency?

When one becomes dependent on a chemical such as alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medication, the body has reached a state in which it requires the substance in order to function normally. If the body doesn’t get the drug, it will experience withdrawal symptoms. One sign of approaching chemical dependency is when the body develops tolerance to a substance. This means that more of the substance is required to achieve the same physical or mental effect. Chemical dependency is a more severe form of substance use disorder, involving both psychological and physical addiction. Key features include:

  1. Tolerance: Needing increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the same effect.
  2. Withdrawal: Experiencing physical and mental symptoms when not using the substance.
  3. Compulsion: A strong, often overwhelming urge to use the substance, despite knowing the harmful consequences.
  4. Continued Use Despite Problems: Persisting in substance use despite recognizing that it is causing significant issues in various aspects of life.
  5. Physical Dependence: The body’s adaptation to the substance, necessitating its presence to function normally.

What is a Substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder describes a pattern of using a substance that causes significant problems or distress. The person has developed a physical dependence on the substance as well as a mental and psychological addiction. It becomes almost impossible for them to stop taking the substance without medical help, even if they want to. Someone with a substance use disorder may put themselves in dangerous situations when under the influence: driving, operating machinery, and engaging in aggravated behaviors, for example. Other signs of substance abuse may involve failure to fulfill responsibilities and legal actions related to substance use. Substance use disorder refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. It is characterized by:

  1. Patterns of Use: Using substances in a manner, amount, or situation that is harmful to the individual or others.
  2. Consequences: Negative outcomes from substance use, such as health issues, legal problems, academic or occupational failures, and interpersonal conflicts.
  3. Lack of Control: An inability to adhere to limits set on substance use, despite the intention to do so.
  4. Behavioral Indicators: Risky behaviors while using substances, such as driving under the influence or engaging in unsafe activities.

The medical definition for addiction/substance use disorder is as follows: “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

What is the difference between a chemical dependency and a substance use disorder?

  1. Severity: Chemical dependency indicates a more advanced and severe stage of addiction compared to substance abuse.
  2. Physical vs. Behavioral Aspects: Substance abuse focuses more on the patterns and consequences of use, while chemical dependency encompasses physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
  3. Treatment Needs: Substance abuse might be addressed with behavioral interventions and counseling, whereas chemical dependency often requires a more intensive, multifaceted approach including detoxification, medication, and long-term rehabilitation.

Get help at Great Oaks Recovery Center

While both substance use disorder and chemical dependency involve problematic substance use, they differ in severity and the nature of the addiction. Substance use disorder is characterized by harmful use patterns and negative consequences, whereas chemical dependency involves physical addiction and a compulsive need for the substance. Understanding these differences is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.

If you or a loved one is suffering from chemical dependency or addiction, please seek professional help. Contact us anytime at (877) 977-3268.