Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

3. What is the difference between physical dependence and addiction?

Physical dependence is a normal process that can happen to anyone taking a medication for a long time. It means that the body (including the brain) is adapting to the presence of the drug, and the person may require a higher dosage or a different medication to get relief; this condition is known as tolerance. They may also suffer from withdrawal or feel sick when they stop taking the medication abruptly. However, the symptoms of withdrawal can usually be prevented or managed by a physician, which is why it is so important to talk to a doctor before stopping a medication.

Someone who is addicted to a drug may also be physically dependent on it, but rather than benefitting from the drug’s effects, an addicted person will continue to get worse with continued or increasing drug abuse. An addicted person compulsively seeks and abuses drugs, despite their negative consequences.