Understanding the Difference Between Addiction and Dependence

Last Updated on November 10, 2022

Understanding the Difference Between Addiction and Dependence

It’s easy to think of dependence and addiction as synonymous terms. After all, they are both used to describe someone who struggles with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). But the truth of the matter is that these terms are distinctive and it’s important to know the difference. Let’s review these terms and go over some quick self-assessments to gauge where you stand. 


Dependence is generally seen as the precursor to full-on addiction or to describe someone who is reliant on a substance to function normally. It’s characterized by a noticeable change in physical and/or mental state when the substance is absent from a person’s system. In other words, when the dependent substance is not being metabolized by the body, it affects the person in negative ways. When the dependent substance is reintroduced to the body, these negative effects will be reduced or disappear completely. 

Example of Dependence

For example, a woman is taking medication to reduce the pain in her knee from an old injury that healed improperly. If this woman stops taking her medication, she will be negatively affected by the absence of the substance. The pain in her knee will return, and she may become irritable due to the unmanaged pain. In this case, she is dependent on her medication but not experiencing addiction.


Addiction is marked by dependence. However, dependence is not the only characteristic of addiction. First and foremost, addiction is a disease that incorporates many physical, mental, and environmental factors. But the thing that distinguishes addiction most from dependence is behavior. Addiction is most recognizable when measured by the lengths someone is willing to go to for a particular substance. What will they change about themselves or their life to maintain access to their substance of choice? How will they treat people who stand between them and their substance use? 

Example of Addiction

Let’s revisit the woman taking medication for chronic knee pain. She notices that her prescription is not as effective at reducing her pain as when she first began taking it. However, her doctor is reluctant to increase her dosage because her medication has a high rate of addiction. So she begins taking more than her prescription dosage without her doctor’s approval. This is a behavior characteristic of addiction. If left unchecked, this situation could very easily snowball from dependence to prescription drug addiction.


Here’s a quick questionnaire to help you self-assess your own proclivity toward addiction. We do not keep a record of any of your answers to maintain privacy. Simply keep track of which questions you answer “yes” to.

  1. Do you engage in substance use outside of prescription/medical guidance?
  2. Do you use more than one type of substance at a time? (i.e. mixing pain medication with alcohol)
  3. Are you taking substances more than once a week?
  4. Have you abused drugs or alcohol in the past?
  5. Has your relationship with family and friends become distant or otherwise negative?
  6. Do your family and/or friends confront you about your substance use?
  7. Is there an arrest record associated with your substance use?
  8. Have you ever engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drugs/alcohol?
  9. When you stop engaging in substance use do you experience withdrawals or any other negative effects?
  10. In your experience, has your substance use ever resulted in a blackout, memory loss, or bodily injury?

If you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, you may be experiencing an addiction. Consider reaching out to a treatment center or recovery program where professionals can offer resources and care.

Recovery With Nova

At Nova Recovery Center, Houston we provide our patients with a very comfortable detox process, where they will be monitored round the clock by trained professionals. You will be provided with all the medications you need to combat the withdrawal symptoms. You will then be enrolled in the in-patient recovery program where you’ll learn to stay away from drugs, through counseling, group therapy, and so on.

Nova Recovery Center is committed to helping you overcome your addiction so you can get back to what is most important to you. If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction, Nova Recovery Center can provide support. We have locations in Austin, Houston, and Wimberley Texas. Call today to begin your journey in recovery at (888) 428-1501.

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