What Is a Physical Dependence?

physical dependence

Substance addiction is a common problem in the U.S. and across the world. This is a well-established fact. But, like many people, you may wonder exactly what defines addiction. One of the key components of this chronic brain disease is physical dependence. By itself,  dependence does not constitute addiction. Nevertheless, this problem is frequently found in people who need a drug and alcohol rehab program. Keep reading to learn more about physical dependence, how it develops, and its role in fostering addiction.

How Physical Dependence Develops Inside Your Brain

When you drink alcohol or take an addictive drug, your brain undergoes several changes. One of the key changes is the generation of an outsized form of pleasure called euphoria. This powerful sensation goes well beyond the typical level of pleasure you get from doing everyday things. For this reason, some people who drink or take drugs seek to recreate their euphoric experiences repeatedly.

This wouldn’t be a problem if additional changes weren’t also occurring inside your brain. Alcohol and other addictive substances alter the normal levels of essential brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. When this alteration only happens rarely or occasionally, your brain will treat it as an abnormal state. However, if it occurs repeatedly, your brain will come to expect it.

It is this expectation that marks the transition into physical dependence. Once it becomes dependent, your brain will resist any reduction in your drug or alcohol consumption. This resistance takes the form of withdrawal symptoms. If you’re dependent on a given substance, you can go into withdrawal if you:

  • Go too long between sessions of drinking or drug use
  • Make sharp reductions in your level of substance intake

You can also go into withdrawal if you stop using that substance altogether.

Alcohol and Drug Dependence Vs. Addiction

You can be physically dependent without meeting the criteria for addiction. This is especially common among people who take prescription opioids. Opioid drug dependence can occur even when you follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. Doctors are well-aware of this fact. That’s why they monitor their patients for signs of dependence. If it occurs, they take steps to manage it.

But if you can manage dependence, how does it lead to addiction? As a rule, this occurs when dependence is not successfully managed. In these circumstances, you may eventually develop two other problems:

  • Psychological dependence on the substance in question
  • Compulsive drug-seeking behavior

The combination of drug-seeking behavior and the two forms of dependence brings addiction into being.

Proper Treatment Addresses Physical Dependence

Proper drug and alcohol treatment helps you overcome physical dependence. When you begin your recovery, you will go through a period of supervised detox. The detox process helps you make it through substance withdrawal and reach an initial sober state.

Once you reach this state, you can begin the work of primary drug or alcohol rehab. Rehab helps you cope with the residual effects of physical dependence. Crucially, it also helps you break your psychological substance dependence. In addition, you learn how to undo the behaviors that support an addiction.

Seek Treatment for Alcohol or Drug Dependence at Northpoint Washington

Are you or a loved one affected by physical dependence and addiction? Talk to the treatment professionals at Northpoint Washington. We specialize in high-quality residential care for all manner of substance problems. We also have the expertise needed to address any additional mental health issues you may be experiencing. In all cases, we provide customized treatment suited to your one-of-a-kind situation. Call us today at 888.450.2153 or fill out our online form for more information.