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What Is Chemical Dependency?

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Not everyone with chemical dependency has a diagnosable addiction, but a significant number of those with addictions (substance use disorders) are also chemically dependent on substances.

The terms drug dependency and addiction are not interchangeable, especially concerning prescription medications. When considering chemical dependence vs addiction, individuals undergoing extended opioid treatment for terminal illnesses or chronic pain may develop chemical addiction on their prescribed narcotics without necessarily developing substance use disorder. Conversely, addiction – especially to substances that cause physical withdrawal symptoms like benzos or alcohol – almost always involves chemical dependence.

Signs of Chemical Dependence

Identifying signs of chemical dependence is beneficial for anyone dealing with substance-related issues.  These may include:

  • Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of a substance to achieve the same effects indicates the development of tolerance, a key sign of chemical dependence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Experiencing physical or psychological symptoms when the substance is not used is a clear sign of dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe reactions, depending on the substance.
  • Neglect of responsibilities: Failing to meet work, social, or family obligations due to substance use points to the disruptive impact of chemical dependence on daily life.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit: Repeated efforts to quit or cut back on substance use without success highlight the challenges of chemical dependence and the issues presented by withdrawal syndrome.
  • Denial of the problem: People struggling with chemical dependence may deny the severity of their use or its impact on their lives, hindering intervention efforts. This is especially prevalent among those who are dependent on illicit drugs.

Recognizing these signs is a crucial first step toward addressing chemical dependence and promoting healthier choices. Seeking professional assistance and support from friends and family is essential for individuals navigating these challenges.

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Chemical Dependence vs. Addiction

While addiction frequently involves chemical dependence, the reverse is not always true. Chemical dependence, put simply, is a normal biological response to an addictive substance. Individuals managing chronic pain through opioid medications are likely to develop chemical dependence due to the way opioids interact with the CNS (central nervous system). Opioids bind to mu-opioid receptors in the brain, prompting more dopamine to be released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger associated with pleasurable feelings.

Dependence, then, is the result of neurons adapting to repeated exposure to drugs, requiring the substance to function, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms in its absence. Withdrawal symptoms may be mild or potentially life-threatening.

In the context of opioid-related drugs, distinct brain areas are impacted, including the reward pathway (closely associated with addiction) and the brainstem and thalamus (directly linked to dependence). It is possible for someone to become dependent on an opioid without being addicted – especially in cases like chronic pain management for terminal cancer. In such instances, individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued, but they do not exhibit compulsive use or addiction.

In 2013, APA (American Psychiatric Association) abandoned the terms dependence and substance abuse from DSM-IV, introducing substance use disorder in DSM-5-TR (the most current revised edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This change aimed to provide a more inclusive term for those seeking assistance, regardless of whether they identified as addicts.

Addiction, clinically described as substance use disorder, is a chronic but treatable brain disorder that involves the compulsive use of drugs despite adverse outcomes. The characteristics of addiction include an inability to cease use, neglect of work or social responsibilities, and the development of tolerance with withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation, as also seen in those with chemical dependence.


What is chemical dependency?

Chemical dependency is a state in which someone requires an addictive substance to function normally and experiences withdrawal symptoms in its absence.

Abuse vs dependence: what’s the difference?

Abuse may involve the occasional, excessive use of a substance that triggers adverse outcomes, while dependence is characterized by chronic reliance on a substance, accompanied by tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and an inability to moderate or discontinue use.

Chemical Dependency Treatment

For individuals grappling with addiction or chemical dependence, seeking treatment is advisable when the substances that fuel these conditions is removed, whether by choice or changing circumstances.

A chemical dependency evaluation involves an initial chemical dependency assessment. Those who are chemically dependent on a specific substance often collaborate with prescribing physicians to formulate a detox plan during chemical dependency evaluations.

In most cases, dosage is gradually tapered off to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms that may present during abrupt discontinuation. Since dependence doesn’t engage the reward pathway for those not addicted, cravings associated with addiction are generally not a factor. Chemical dependency counseling is seldom required due to the physical nature of the condition.

Severe substance use disorders affecting the reward pathway, on the other hand, call for long-term treatment that may include medical detoxification, psychotherapy, counseling, and comprehensive aftercare planning. This holistic approach aims to retrain the brain’s reward pathway and establish a framework for sustained recovery. Here’s how you can get help for chemical dependency near you.

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Get Treatment for Chemical Dependence at Drug Rehabs Centers

Maybe you or a loved one needs rehab in California but you have no idea how to engage with treatment providers. We can help streamline the process at Drug Rehabs Centers and help you find a chemical dependency program near you.

Sometimes, helping someone with drug addiction or alcoholism may involve advice concerning appropriate resources and support groups. We can help you with this. Many people, though, find that inpatient or outpatient rehab provides the smoothest pathway to ongoing recovery. We can connect you with reputable rehabs, addiction specialists, and treatment providers throughout the state, enabling you to get the help you need fuss-free.

Call 844.739.2005 for on-the-spot advice and referrals to detox centers and rehabs throughout Southern California.

Juan Bonnet
Author: Juan Bonnet


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