Is It Dependence Or Addiction That You're Experiencing?

dependence substance use Mar 09, 2023

There is a clear distinction between substance use and dependence however they are quite often used interchangeably. The confounding descriptions of each can lead to immense confusion and uncertainty around what is being experienced. The concept of ‘dependence’ is that of a strong physical reliance on a substance or behaviour. It infers that an individual is physically dependent on a behaviour or substance and can be demonstrated through a number of different signs.

These signs could include:

  • Utilizing or consuming in greater quantities or for longer periods of time than intended


  • Continuously wishing to reduce or manage their use of drugs or alcohol, or making unsuccessful attempts to do so


  • Taking a long time to get, use, or recuperate from drug or alcohol use


  • A strong desire or craving to use alcohol or drugs


  • Ongoing drug or alcohol use that interferes with responsibilities at home, job, or school


  • Using drugs or alcohol despite the ongoing relationship issues brought on their use


  • Decreasing or discontinuing activities due to drug or alcohol use


  • Engaging in high-risk behaviours, such as risky sexual activity, driving under the influence or other risky or negligent behaviour


  • Consuming drugs or alcohol on a regular basis despite it compromising your physical and mental health and wellbeing


  • The need to consume more drugs or alcohol to achieve the same buzz


  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if alcohol or drugs are not used. Or avoiding such symptoms by using alcohol or another substance.


Addiction on the other hand, refers to the prioritisation of the substance use, meeting 2 or more of the factors mentioned above and noticing the substance use or behaviour has permeated their life in gradation. The substance use or behaviour becomes the focus for the individual even if that means putting the needs of themselves, work or others beneath it. Addiction becomes an unhelpful way of thinking, behaving and engaging with the world which is derived from the unhealthy interactions of substance use or acting out. In essence, addiction is the overarching framework and dependence falls within that. Dependence being the physical reliance to a substance or behaviour is a constituent to addiction though does not describe addiction entirely.


To notice the more overt presentation of dependence within yourself and others here are the key things to look out for:


  • Rapid fluctuations in weight (weight loss or weight gain)
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Constant red eyes
  • Changes to physical presentation including: being unshaven, uncut hair, work attire has shifted
  • Unexpected abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure following recent health checks
  • Changes in mood (highly strung, low mood, energised, low motivation)
  • Sleep problems
  • Social withdrawal


By taking the steps needed to get help early, you are one step closer to feeling free and in control of substance use. You can move from restricting towards reasonable use though engaging in the profession support. With the right professional support you can learn the management tools, skills and healthy coping mechanisms before things start to escalate.