October 17th, 2017 | ASAH Team
The menace of drug and alcohol abuse has become a major public health concern. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 20.1 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year. When a person repeatedly abuses substances like alcohol or drugs, he or she may begin to develop both dependence and tolerance over time. Many people mistakenly believe that tolerance, dependence and addiction are different terms for the same condition. However, each term connect something different, particularly in the terms of effects of the substance on human body and brain.
While tolerance and dependence may often arise together, there are clear-cut distinctions between them and understanding these differences is crucial for recognizing the signs of any major problem. On the one hand tolerance is a person’s diminished response to a substance due to the adaption of the body after regular and frequent abuse, on the other dependence is the rise of strong desire to experience the effects of the substance of choice.
Therefore, tolerance and dependence are physical consequences of substance use on the body and the brain, whereas addiction refers to a brain disease that leads to engagement in harmful and compulsive behavior behaviors like substance abuse. Both tolerance and dependence have the potential to cause addiction, but not always.
Tolerance is the physical effect of repeated substance use and is not necessarily a sign of addiction. When the effects of the regular dose begins to decline with repeated use, a person may require more quantity of the substance to experience the same effects like before. Such a phase of substance abuse is popularly known as tolerance.
There are essentially three types of tolerance: acute, chronic and learned. One develops acute tolerance due to repeated exposure to a drug like cocaine over a brief period. On the other side, one develops chronic tolerance due to the long-term abuse of some drugs, such as prescription opioids. Moreover, learned tolerance can be seen in people who abuse alcohol for years. Despite consuming large amounts of alcohol, they are able to perform some tasks done repeatedly while under the influence.
Dependence develops from continued exposure to a substance overtime. A person is said to have developed dependence if abstinence from the substance of abuse triggers uncomfortable and severe withdrawal symptoms. As such, dependence and addiction are known to occur in parallel. One can develop an addiction to nonaddictive drug like prednisone that leads to withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, weakness, body aches and joint pain.
The condition of dependence can be medically treated using the tapering method where the dosage is gradually minimized. Detoxification facilities may also use a controlled tapering method to prevent acute withdrawal symptoms from illicit or prescription drug abuse. Alternatively, original drugs like heroin are replaced by less potent and safer substitutes, such as methadone or buprenorphine.
Addiction is a psychological condition defined by an uncontrollable and overwhelming need to use a substance and engage in harmful behaviors despite knowing the dangerous consequences. Such a compulsive behavior can return to haunt individuals even after years of sobriety, which explains the increased risk of a relapse after a long spell of abstinence.
A multitude of research has established that addiction is a condition arising due to the changes in the brain inflicted by addictive substances. Therefore, it is not a sign of moral weakness. Since substances stimulate pleasure and reward pathways in the brain comparatively more strongly than natural rewards, they can deceive the brain into prioritizing drug-taking behavior over other beneficial activities. Taking drugs can literally feel like a matter of life and death for an individual suffering from addiction.
To achieve sobriety, understanding the distinctions among the above-mentioned three conditions is crucial. In several cases, people inadvertently develop tolerance toward a substance that eventually leads to addiction. Addiction can be a fatal condition, which is practically impossible to cure without professional assistance.
If you or someone you know needs help in recovering from a substance use disorder, contact the Arizona Substance Abuse Helpline to get details about the best substance abuse treatment centers in Arizona. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-857-5777 or chat online to access the best substance abuse rehab clinic in Arizona.