What Does Dependence Mean?

Dependence, in the context of drug use or abuse, refers to a biological or physical reaction to a drug. When dependence develops, a person may require a higher dose of a drug to achieve the same effects. This adaptation process is referred to as developing a tolerance for the drug.

Additionally, a person who is dependent upon a drug may suffer physical or psychological symptoms if they stop taking the drug. This response to deprivation of a particular drug is called withdrawal.

Physical dependence on a drug is the result of the chemical interactions of the drug with a person's body. Dependency is a separate condition from addiction, although a person may experience both conditions simultaneously.

Substances that are known to cause physical dependence include alcohol, nicotine, opiods, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines, among others.


WorkplaceTesting Explains Dependence

Drug dependency is not limited to just those who use illegal drugs. A person may develop a dependence on prescription or over the counter medications as well. For example, a person who regularly takes the antihistamine diphenhydramine may develop a tolerance to the medication over time, requiring a higher dose to achieve the same relief from allergy symptoms.

Some opiates prescribed for pain relief are known to cause physical dependency. Individuals can also develop a tolerance to these drugs, limiting the medication's ability to control the person's pain. A person who has been prescribed an opiate pain reliever should be carefully monitored for signs of addiction. Cessation of opiod use may trigger withdrawal symptoms if not carefully managed.

Some drugs of abuse do not cause a physical dependency. Individuals battling addiction to these drugs may be able to stop using the drug without medical intervention. However, stopping the use of illegal drugs that also cause physical dependency may require medically managed withdrawal. This process is sometimes called detoxification.


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