Substance Dependence

Last Updated: May 25, 2018

Definition - What does Substance Dependence mean?

Substance dependence is a biochemical condition that involves a physical adaptation to a drug that requires continued use for the body to maintain normal homeostatic function. Individuals who use illicit and/or prescribed medications, including alcohol, can develop substance dependence leading to potential addictive behavior. However, many people are administered drugs to regulate certain body functions where there is a substance dependence on the medication without actual addiction. For instance, insulin is an essential hormone diabetics need to normalize glucose (blood sugar) levels.

WorkplaceTesting explains Substance Dependence

Substance dependence is often confused with addiction and used interchangeably as an umbrella term to characterize general substance abuse. The underlying difference is that dependence satisfies a physiological need while addiction is associated with a physical and psychological compulsion. With substance dependence, the brain adapts to repeated use of a drug and lets the drug take over certain functions.

For instance, prednisone, is an artificial substitute of cortisol, a hormone secreted to defend against common detrimental conditions, for example, asthma and allergies. Consistent use of any type of drug gradually depletes primary hormone secretion, giving way to secondary effects induced by the drug itself. It is for this reason that individuals become dependent on drugs to feel normal and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Many drugs can result in addiction, for example, opiates are used to relieve persistent feelings of pain. However, opiate dependence can be dangerous if individuals suddenly decide to stop taking their medication and incur possibly severe withdrawal reactions. Doctors have introduced the tapering method designed to lower dependence by slowly weaning off patients from certain medications and substances known to create dependence. This strategy allows the body to redevelop its baseline threshold in releasing vital neurochemical substances.

This definition was written in the context of Drug Testing
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