It is a common misconception that tolerance, dependence, and addiction describe the same thing. However, each of these terms describes different ways in which drugs affect someone’s body and brain. The differences between these three terms are important for understanding the complexities of addiction.
Tolerance occurs when a person’s physical response to a substance, such as drugs or alcohol, lessens over time. Therefore, it takes a higher dose of the substance to reach the same effect as when they first used. Over time, people build a tolerance for the drug’s effect in search of the original high they once got from it. Developing tolerance differs between substances used, and are therefore categorized as short-term, long-term, or learned. For example, cocaine tolerance occurs over short periods, whereas tolerance to prescription drugs usually occurs over long periods. Learned tolerance results from “practicing” frequent exposure to substances, such as alcohol, and describes how people who use alcohol for long periods do not appear to be intoxicated.
Dependence occurs when a person stops using a drug, and their body experiences withdrawal. Withdrawal involves experiencing physical and mental symptoms when quitting drugs or alcohol, and experiencing withdrawal can come from various substances ranging from caffeine to heroin. Prescription medications used every day over time can also lead to dependence. Weaning, or gradually quitting the substance, is an effective way to avoid withdrawal symptoms. However, a person who is dependent on a substance is not necessarily addicted to the substance.
Addiction is a disease, whereas dependence and tolerance are not. Conversely, tolerance, dependence, and addiction all occur from repeatedly taking substances. Addiction, or substance use disorder, is when a person continues using drugs or alcohol and cannot stop using them despite the negative impacts it causes in all aspects of their life: at school, at work, or home.
Looking for Help?
Understanding addiction is imperative to overcoming the disease. The development of an addiction is a different path for every individual suffering from a substance use disorder. Tolerance does not indicate an addiction, and neither does dependence. Chronic and long-term use of substances is not necessary for tolerance, dependence, or even addiction to develop. The birth of addiction depends on various factors, including the substance used, psychological, mental, and physical health, and many other contributing factors that vary for each individual. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 817-381-9741 or visit us online.