Recognizing the Difference between Tolerance and Dependence

tolerance and dependence

Recognizing the Difference between Tolerance and Dependence

There are many different terms thrown out in the drug and alcohol addiction world. Tolerance and dependence are mistakenly often used interchangeably. Although these two terms can affect an addict concurrently, they are not the same. Understanding the difference between tolerance and dependence can give an addict understanding about their addiction and also inform them on when is best to search for help.

What is Drug and Alcohol Tolerance?

Tolerance is what happens before dependence is formed. The body starts to recognize a chemical  because it has been administered too often. When the body recognizes the chemical, the effects aren’t the same and more of the drug is required to achieve the desired effects. Those with a chemical tolerance will take more of a drug or drink more alcohol to feel the way they want to. Examples of this will be a drug user taking twice the dose or an alcoholic drinking hard liquor when everyone else is drinking a glass of wine.

Tolerance is the result of two different biological phenomenon. The first is pharmacokinetic tolerance, which is when the drug does not reach the receptors in the brain because enzymes that recognize the chemical break it down before it can. The second, pharmacodynamics tolerance, results from damaged and lost receptors due to a weakened chemical response.

Tolerance to drugs is not all the same. Some tolerance to certain drugs may happen quicker than others. Additionally, everyone’s body does not react the same way to each drug.  For example, the euphoric effects of certain opioids will form tolerance before the effects that manage pain. On the other hand, crack tolerance can form in a single day in some users.

What is Drug and Alcohol Dependence?

With continued increase of drug and alcohol dosage because of the development of tolerance, the risk of forming dependence grows higher. Dependence is how a body physiologically adapts to the persistent administering of a substance. Basically, it’s how well a person’s body adjusts to a drug.

Humans are remarkably adaptable to drugs and alcohol. Once a dependent addict suspends drug usage, his or her body will experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms are painful and even deadly in some cases if not medically monitored. Withdrawal can be a tricky time for a person with a drug dependency trying to become sober.  Because withdrawal can cause aggravating symptoms, many drug users end up relapsing to relieve the suffering.

Dependence is not only evident in recreational drug and alcohol users, but also in pharmaceutical medicinal users. People that have formed a dependence cannot function normally without their substance. They use their substance to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. Drug dependence is a major sign that addiction may be present in a person’s life and is good reason to seek help through drug abuse treatment.

Are Tolerance and Dependence the Same as Addiction?

Although tolerance and dependence can lead to an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they are not the same thing. Tolerance and dependence are physiological changes and addiction is a behavior. Instead of being a biological factor, addiction is a psychological one. Addiction signifies a continuous substance in spite of negative experiences or consequences. Even after experiencing these consequences an addict is unable to stop using drugs or alcohol if attempted.

The biggest difference in drug or alcohol dependence and addiction is a persistence of usage. The dependent drug user will take a drug to prevent the symptoms of withdrawal. The addict will not quit even though mental, physical, and social consequences are apparent and even present. While most addicts experience tolerance and dependence, addiction has a unique connotation. 

At what Stage Should People Seek Treatment? Addiction, Tolerance or Dependence?

Many substance abusers will not recognize tolerance or even dependence. Drug and alcohol addicts are notorious for denying that they even have a problem. Recognizing tolerance and dependence are addiction warning signs and a call for help. It is important to remember that substance abuse affects each individual differently. Rather than waiting for tolerance and dependence to form, it is best to recognize warning signs to determine whether outside help is needed. These signs could be:

  •      Knowing internally that there is a drug or alcohol problem.
  •       A family member or friend approaches you about a drug or alcohol abuse problem.
  •      Hiding substance abuse from loved ones.
  •      Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
  •      Negative consequences have surfaced like a relationship, work, or legal related issues.
  •      Neglecting duties and responsibilities that would have been previously important.

If a drug or alcohol tolerance, dependence, or addiction is evident in your life and you feel that you need help, it is available. The hardest part of treatment is deciding to do it. Asking for help does not mean that you are not strong and can’t take care of yourself. This moment means you’ve realized you no longer want a life controlled by drugs and alcohol. Decide that drugs and alcohol will no longer manage your emotions, relationships, and life by finding help today.

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