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Addiction vs Tolerance vs Dependence: Is There a Difference? addiction, tolerance, dependency

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Introduction

When you use a drug, your body adapts to it so that it can produce the same effects. The resulting changes are known as tolerance and dependence. 

While these two terms may sound similar, they’re quite different.

 

Table of Contents

Addiction

Addiction is the physical and mental dependence on a substance or behavior. It’s a chronic, relapsing brain disease because it changes your brain’s structure and how it works. 

When you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs, you need more of the substance to get the same effect (tolerance). 

Withdrawal symptoms—like shaking, sweating, or nausea—can occur if you try to stop using, even if you don’t have physical dependence (the body adapts over time so that it needs the substance).

Addiction can be treated but not cured; people can learn skills that help them manage their addiction so they can live normal lives again. 

Treatment usually involves medication therapy combined with behavioral therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients change their thoughts about their addictions and cope with cravings for them by learning new ways of thinking about things like stress management techniques and how to handle problems in their daily lives without turning back towards substances like drugs or alcohol.

It’s important to understand that you can’t “just stop using”; instead, treatment involves learning how to manage your addiction so you don’t feel like you need to drink or use drugs. Treatment helps people cope with the physical and psychological effects of withdrawal. 

When people have this kind of support, they are more likely to be successful in their recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.

 

Tolerance

Tolerance is the need to use more of a substance to get the same effect. Tolerance can develop over time or after one use, but it isn’t addiction.

Many people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana don’t become addicted, but they may still experience tolerance if they consume these substances frequently. 

You might be able to drink more beer than you used to without getting drunk, or smoke more pot without feeling stoned anymore. 

This means that you’re developing tolerance and will need to consume more of whatever substance you’re using for it has the same effect on your body as before

—which can lead some people down a slippery slope towards addiction later on if not addressed properly by seeking help right away (more on how this works later).

The difference between tolerance and addiction is that the former involves a physical change in your body as opposed to an emotional one. 

Tolerance occurs when your brain gets used to a substance, while addiction is more related to psychological changes that occur with repeated use of a drug.

 

Dependence, physical dependence, physical addiction, and withdrawal

The physical dependence on a drug is a physiological state of adaptation that occurs when you take a drug for an extended period. 

It’s not the same as addiction, and it doesn’t mean you’re addicted to your medication. Physiological dependence does not happen in every person who takes medication, but it does happen with many painkillers, antidepressants, stimulants, and sedatives.

Physical dependence can be described as the body’s response to any drug—it causes some specific symptoms when you stop taking the drug. This includes:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Restlessness or agitation Muscle Aches Insomnia Sweating or fever Watery eyes and runny nose If you stop taking the drug, these symptoms can be very uncomfortable—but they aren’t dangerous.

If you stop taking your medication, it’s important to follow up with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend tapering off your dose slowly or stopping cold turkey. 

Tapering slowly lets your body adjust to the change in its chemical balance and helps prevent withdrawal symptoms.

 

Understanding the differences between addiction, tolerance, and physical dependence can help you better understand the nature of your substance use

Addiction, tolerance, and physical dependence are three separate phenomena that occur in response to different types of psychoactive substances. 

Addiction is a complex disorder characterized by a loss of control over substance use and an increase in the number of drugs consumed. 

Tolerance occurs when your body becomes accustomed to the effects of a drug, so you need more of it to achieve the desired effect. 

The physical dependence on an addictive substance means that withdrawal symptoms will occur if you stop taking it without tapering off slowly under medical supervision.

If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s substance use, knowing how addiction works can help guide treatment decisions and support recovery efforts.

The three terms we covered in this post—addiction, tolerance, and physical dependence—are often used interchangeably by people who don’t know much about addiction. 

But if you think about what each describes your substance use habits (or in the case of physical addiction, a lack thereof), it can help you better understand why some people develop an addiction while others don’t. 

If you feel like your substance use has become problematic or is taking over more of your life than it should be, then seek professional help right away so that you can get back on track before it gets worse!

 

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