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What Is Physical Dependence?

sad woman with physical dependence on drugs

Physical dependence can emerge with the chronic use of many different substances. This can develop with prescription drugs, even if they are taken as prescribed. Physical dependence is not the same as addiction; instead, it accompanies addiction. However, a drug addiction treatment program can help patients minimize and successfully break free of this dependence.

Physical dependence on a substance describes a state in which the body adapts to a substance and requires more and more of it to achieve a certain effect. When a person is physically dependent on a substance, specific physical and/or mental symptoms develop if use abruptly stops.

If you or someone you know needs help with physical dependence, contact A Better State today at 781.412.1488.

Understanding the Difference Between Addiction and Physical Dependence

Many people use the terms “addiction” and “dependence” interchangeably, so the line between the two becomes blurred. While the two conditions are similar, there are some differences that are important to know.


When a person is addicted to a substance, they use it inappropriately or dangerously. This could be self-medicating with illegal substances, using medications without a prescription, or using medications at higher levels than what a doctor prescribes.

what is physical dependenceA person cannot stop using a substance with addiction, even though they’re aware of the harmful consequences. The person may struggle to meet work, family, and friends obligations.

People with addiction have built up a tolerance to the substance, and they would likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they stopped using it.

Physical Dependence

Dependence is a term used when a person physically relies on a drug and often experience symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal. As tolerance develops, a person needs higher and higher amounts of the substance to feel the desired effects.

Physical dependence is exhibited by physiological symptoms, while addiction includes a combination of mental, physical, and behavioral symptoms. A person who is addicted is also physically dependent on their substance of choice.

However, not everyone who is physically dependent on a substance is addicted. Rather, physical dependence is usually a precursor to addiction.

What Is Physical Dependence Withdrawal?

What is physical dependence withdrawal? If a person with physical dependence were to stop using the substance suddenly, they would experience acute, sometimes severe, withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms vary by substance and by person, but some of the more common withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Profuse sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Racing pulse
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Headache

Because withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be serious, seeking help at a drug addiction treatment center is essential. The amount of time it takes for withdrawal to begin and end varies widely and depends on the substance and the person.

For example, the average withdrawal period for a person withdrawing from prescription opiates is about 5-10 days. A person breaking free of benzodiazepine use might experience a withdrawal timeline that has a duration of several months.

What Substance Use Disorders Are

In 2013, the term “substance use disorder” became the official term for addiction and physical dependence conditions when the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released. The definitions of “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” were also replaced. A substance use disorder is an addiction or dependency to drugs or alcohol.

Find Help at A Better State Today

Substance use disorders (SUDs) always change lives for the worse. It’s critical for people to seek help from a leading drug addiction treatment program. With an effective combination of therapies and treatments, you can break free from physical dependence and regain control of your life.

To learn more, reach out to A Better State at 781.412.1488.