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What Is Drug Dependence?

Drug dependence can negatively affect someone’s life in many ways. Learn more about drug dependence and the resources available that can help.

What Is Drug Dependence?

Drug dependence is common when someone struggles with addiction. Dependence can cause physical withdrawal symptoms and make someone feel like they can’t function normally without drugs or alcohol. Proper treatment and support are necessary when someone struggles with a drug dependence so they can successfully recover. 

Drug Dependence Definition?

Drug dependence is when your body becomes reliant on taking a substance. Over time, when you take a drug frequently, especially in high doses, the body begins to get used to taking the substance.  

This can cause physical withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug or reduce your dose. Drug dependence often leads to repeated use of addictive substances and can cause or worsen an addiction. 1 

What is the Difference Between Drug Abuse and Drug Dependence?

The difference between addiction and dependence is that dependence refers to the physical and psychological effects of the drug on the body. In contrast, drug abuse refers to the behavior associated with frequently taking addictive drugs. Drug abuse and dependence are often connected because they can cause worsening symptoms that lead to addiction. 2 

Types of Drug Dependence

There are two different types of dependence on drugs that can occur, which are physical and psychological. These will be detailed below:

  • Physical Drug Dependence: Physical dependence on a drug refers to the physical effects on the body and physical withdrawal symptoms if someone stops taking an addictive substance.
  • Psychological Drug Dependence: Psychological dependence on a drug refers to the psychological effects of taking addictive substances and how it can affect the brain’s chemistry over time. Psychological dependence can cause psychological withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues if someone stops taking a substance.
drug dependence

Drug Dependence Causes and Risk Factors

Many causes and risk factors can lead to developing a dependence on drugs. The main cause of substance dependence is taking an addictive substance for an extended period, especially when it’s taken in high doses. While dependence is often used to refer to addiction to illegal substances, it can also occur when taking prescription medication. Medication dependence usually occurs when a prescription medication is misused or abused, but it can also happen if a prescription medication is taken for too long at normal doses. It’s important to work with your doctor when prescribed a medication to ensure you’re taking the proper dose for your needs.

During addiction treatment, it’s essential to understand the risk factors that can lead to dependence on a drug. This can help treat an individual based on their personal needs and help teach coping mechanisms to manage their personal situation effectively. Risk factors will be discussed in the following section. 

Family History of Addiction

Genetic factors can often contribute to addiction and drug dependence. Someone with a family history of addiction may be more susceptible to developing substance dependence.

Mental Health Disorders

Mental health conditions can also be an underlying cause of drug abuse and substance dependence. Many people who abuse addictive substances will do so to try to mask or self-medicate a mental health condition. During addiction treatment, where someone struggles with co-occurring disorders of dependence and addiction, it’s essential to treat both conditions simultaneously to get the best possible results.

Early Use

Beginning drug or alcohol use at an early age can also make someone more susceptible to substance dependence. Younger individuals can become dependent on a substance more easily. Longer-term drug use will also increase the likelihood of a dependence.

Dependence Potential

Certain drugs have more dependence potential than others. If you’re prescribed a prescription medication, make sure you only take it in recommended doses from your doctor to ensure that you don’t develop a dependence.

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Signs and Symptoms of Drug Dependence

If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with drug dependence, there are some common signs and symptoms you can look for.

Physical Signs of Drug Dependence

Common physical signs of drug dependence include:  3

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Significant weight changes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor physical appearance
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking drugs or drinking
  • Trying to quit drinking or using drugs and being unsuccessful
  • Feeling like you can’t function normally without taking drugs or drinking

Behavioral Signs of Drug Dependence

Common behavioral signs of drug dependence include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Changes in habits or priorities
  • Isolation
  • Not partaking in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Secrecy
  • Drug-seeking behavior (multiple doctors’ appointments, buying drugs illegally)

How is Drug Dependence Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a drug dependence requires a thorough medical examination from a licensed medical professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, medical doctor, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.

Typically, drug dependence will be diagnosed using the DSM-5 criteria: a list of criteria that can be used to determine if someone struggles with drug dependence and substance use disorder and the severity of someone’s dependence on drugs. 4

Drug Dependence Complications, Risks, and Treatment

Drug dependence is dangerous and can have many complications and risks with ongoing drug use. Common complications and risks with drug dependence are:

  • Legal and financial problems
  • Problems at school or work
  • Mental and physical health problems
  • Suicide
  • Family problems
  • Drug overdose

Is Treatment for Drug Dependence Effective?

Drug dependence treatments are effective when the individual is fully committed to the treatment program and when the treatment program used is evidence-based and proven effective.

Treatment for Drug Dependence and Abuse

drug dependence 

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug dependence, there are many treatments available that can help. These include:


When treating drug dependence, detoxification is one of the first steps of a treatment program. A detox program will help your body process drugs out of your system. Withdrawal symptoms will occur during this time due to dependence on drugs. Going to a treatment center for detox is essential to make this process as safe and effective as possible.


Some form of therapy will likely be used during a drug rehabilitation program. Psychotherapy is a good option for those struggling with drug dependence and co-occurring mental health conditions. Psychotherapy will help you work on drug dependence and any underlying conditions you may be struggling with.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is also a good option for treating drug dependence. Behavioral therapy will help you learn coping mechanisms to manage the stresses of life without the use of drugs or alcohol and will help you reroute negative behaviors into more positive outlets.


Depending on the type of drug dependence, medication-assisted treatment may be an option to help ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent a relapse from occurring. Medications used during treatment are scientifically studied and proven effective for drug dependence treatment.

Support Groups

Support groups may also be used during a treatment program to help create a sense of community and support system within a group environment. Support groups will allow all group members to share, learn from each other’s experiences, and work together towards a common goal of continued recovery.

Contact an Addiction Professional at Ripple Ranch Recovery

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug dependence or addiction, Ripple Ranch Recovery can help. Ripple Ranch Recovery is a treatment center that uses an evidence-based approach to get you the best possible results. Contact an addiction professional at Ripple Ranch Recovery for more information about how we can help you.

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