woman struggles with the effects of chemical dependency

Chemical dependency is a challenging concept to understand. You might hear people talk about it interchangeably with substance abuse and addiction. Learning what each term means can help you tell the difference between the concepts and better understand what you might be going through.

If you're struggling with chemical dependency or are concerned for a loved one, call 866.957.7885 to learn about your options for treatment.

Chemical Dependency: A Definition

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) offers definitions and criteria for understanding and diagnosing substance use disorder and chemical dependency. In the past, it defined substance abuse and dependence as two separate disorders. The change in diagnostic criteria is likely the cause of much of the confusion around the terms that exist today.

The DSM-V drops the distinction between substance abuse and dependence in favor of the term “substance use disorder.” It defines substance abuse, dependence, and addiction on a scale that measures the degree and length of substance use. The more severe your condition is on the scale, the more likely you are to develop an addiction.

Most frequently, when someone uses the term “chemical dependency,” they are referring to a substance use disorder that is severe enough to have created a physical or mental need for the user’s drug of choice. For example, a person with a chemical dependency on opioids would get physically ill if they were unable to use the drug.

Stages of Substance Use Disorder

In the early stage of substance use disorder, you may use an illegal or prescription drug in a way that it wasn’t meant to be used. However, substance abuse can also develop while following a legitimate prescription treatment. During this stage, the drugs affect the brain, changing how it sends and receives information.

Over time, your brain adapts to the new chemicals being introduced to your brain. Because of this adaptation, it begins to depend on regular doses of the drug to function normally. At this point, you have developed a chemical dependency. You’ll have a tolerance to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use it.

Substance use disorder progresses toward addiction the longer you abuse alcohol or other drugs. The chemical imbalance in your brain changes your behaviors and drugs become your main priority. Even if you recognize that there’s a problem and that the drugs cause harm, you can’t stop using. The physical and mental dependence that you’ve developed make it extremely difficult to stop without drug and alcohol rehab.

Physical vs. Mental Chemical Dependency

Physical dependence is the most common and obvious type of chemical dependency. It prevents your brain and body from functioning normally when you don’t use. This effect triggers a withdrawal response, which is your body’s way of telling you that you need the drugs. The distressing symptoms of withdrawal drive you to use to feel better.

However, not all drugs cause physical withdrawal symptoms. Instead, these drugs cause mental or emotional dependence with long-term use. They involve a compulsion or a perceived need to use.

For example, people with a mental dependence on marijuana might believe that they need weed to fall asleep peacefully and quickly. When they don’t use the drug, though, they eventually fall asleep without physical withdrawal symptoms.

Get Help for Chemical Dependency and Substance Use Disorders

If you have a drug or alcohol abuse problem and are ready for treatment, contact the San Antonio Recovery Center. We offer Texas addiction rehab programs and services that treat the various stages of substance use disorder, including:

Don’t make the mistake of believing that you can’t stop using drugs. Help is available and recovery from chemical dependency is possible with the right treatment plan. Call us today at 866.957.7885 to learn more about our services.

Now is the time to focus on your recovery.


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