When someone develops physical dependence, that means they are using a substance over time and, when they try stopping, they experience unpleasant physical symptoms. That person depends on that substance to prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. As tolerances increase, that person must use more of a substance to prevent these adverse effects from occurring.
The Difference Between Addiction and Physical Dependence
While you might see these terms interchanging, there are differences between substance abuse and physical dependence. When someone is abusing a substance, that means they are using it dangerously or inappropriately. Examples include:
- Using medications without a prescription
- Using prescriptions at a higher dose or frequency than their doctor advises
- Self-medicating using illegal substances
- Experiencing intoxication when it is not appropriate, including at the workplace
Physical dependence differs from this because it is when someone wants to use a substance regularly. That includes even if this use is against their better judgment. When someone tries to reduce or stop using a substance, that leads to them experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Understanding the Signs of Physical Addiction
It is not necessary to see someone engaging in substance abuse to know an issue is present. There are a wide variety of signs for physical addiction and, more often than not, they are difficult to disguise. Here are some common signs of this form of dependence you might see:
- Physical cravings: These feelings are difficult to ignore, and you might also notice they are the strongest during stress-related situations.
- Development of tolerance: As we use more of a substance, our bodies naturally adapt. That adaptation is the development of tolerance levels that require more of a substance.
- Compromised immune system: The more someone uses a substance, the more likely they are to experience flu-like symptoms or other immune system issues.
- Weight changes: One of the most common signs of physical dependence is rapid weight loss, as well as digestive issues including diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, and stomach cramps.
- Memory issues: It is no mystery that the use of substances could cause the inability to think clearly and, under some circumstances like prolonged use, memory issues.
The increased use of a substance could also lead to insomnia. For example, when someone is using a stimulant, that could lead to the disruption of their sleep cycle. That could lead to the person staying awake for days due to their frequent use of the substance, and then physically crashing as a result.
When You Notice Signs of Physical Dependence
Even though every person is not a neat freak, that does not mean it is impossible to notice signs of physical dependence. What that means is, it is not uncommon for those with this form of dependence to let themselves go. For example, they might not be changing their clothes regularly, or they could start neglecting their grooming and hygiene habits.
When physical dependence takes over, it is not uncommon for the brain to convince those who are suffering from this that eating food and drinking water is less critical than substance use. Therefore, it makes sense that other areas of this person’s life could also become affected. That could lead to caring less about physical appearances and hygiene.
Physical dependence is not only about someone letting themselves go. It can also lead to not having enough time or energy to maintain interpersonal relationships, keep up with work, or look after their home. Because they are letting physical dependence take hold, they are letting everything else fall apart.
Get the Help You Need Today at Blueprint Recovery Center
Do you have concerns or questions about the differences between substance abuse and physical dependence? If you or a family member is going through this form of dependence, it should not happen without support. We offer treatment for a number of addictions including: