Withdrawal is a Sign of Dependence
These unwanted symptoms are called substance withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are specific to the substance you are dependent on, meaning opioid users suffer from specific opioid withdrawal symptoms and alcoholics manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Once these symptoms emerge, the person will be further compelled to get and use the drug to diminish the withdrawal effects. This plan is effective but shortsighted because it only delays the presentation of withdrawals for a few hours or days.
At best, withdrawal symptoms are distressing. At worst, withdrawal symptoms are deadly.
Alcohol and prescription sedative medications pose the largest risk to someone’s health and safety as they could experience very damaging seizures during the withdrawal process. For this reason, addiction and medical experts believe that someone withdrawing from alcohol and sedatives should always do so under strict medical care.
Just as withdrawal symptoms differ by the drug, the timeframe and intensity of withdrawals differ by the substance and rates of use. Alcohol and opioids can trigger withdrawal effects that last for months or longer. Methamphetamines create intense symptoms that alleviate in a few days.
Dependence Without Addiction
Although dependence and addiction tend to go together, there are situations where a person can be dependent on a substance without experiencing the signs of addiction. This is most common in cases of prescription medications.
Prescription pain pills, prescription sedatives for anxiety, and prescription stimulants for ADHD all have the ability to create physical dependence. Unfortunately, this detail may not be successfully communicated by the prescribing doctor or nurse to the patient.
Perhaps you know someone who is prescribed an anxiety medication like Xanax or Klonopin. Initially, they started at one level, but over time, the doses and the frequency increased as the body adapted to the drug.
This growing tolerance is a telltale sign of dependence. Then, one day, they forgot to take their medication and began to feel odd until they realized their missed dose.
Here is a person following doctor’s orders perfectly, and they still experience dependence. If this person chooses to end their use, their doctor will recommend a tapering process where the dose is gradually lowered.
Having the prescriber decide to abruptly stop the medication could result in withdrawal symptoms. In this scenario, the individual will be tempted to acquire their medication by other methods, which could lead to addiction.
Substance Use Disorders
Though addiction and dependence are terms people regularly encounter, they are beginning to fall out of favor among substance abuse professionals. Beginning in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association began moving in the direction of the term “substance use disorders” rather than addiction or dependence.
Substance use disorders combine aspects of addictive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and physical dependence into one diagnosis to simplify the process. A person has a substance use disorder if they:
- Spend large amounts of time getting and consuming large amounts of a drug
- Need more of the substance over time to produce the same results – tolerance
- Having strong cravings for more drugs
- Feel odd, uncomfortable, or sick without their substance – physical dependence
- Experience more conflict in relationships
- Cannot function in important facets of their life
- Endanger their well-being or well-being of their loved ones during use
- Continue using despite legal, financial, or social problems
A person only needs a few of these symptoms to receive a substance use disorder diagnosis. A diagnosis means treatment becomes accessible and affordable with many insurances covering services.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you call it an addiction, dependence, or a substance use disorder. The important part is seeing the impact substances have on your life and making the decision to do something about it.
Whether the drug is completely illicit or prescribed by a trusted physician, many medications carry risks that you, as the consumer, must be aware of. Ask questions and get answers to preserve your well-being.
You never have to let drugs control your life. You always have the choice.