Understanding Physical Dependence

Physical dependence, addiction, drug abuse–these terms are often used interchangeably. But they aren’t the same. Drug abuse is the act of misusing a substance. Addiction is a series of harmful behaviors you develop around something that you feel compelled to continue. But being physically dependent? That’s about biology and what substances do in your body to make you physically “need” them.

What Is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence is an adaptation of the body to taking a certain substance in a certain amount. Because the body has adapted to that substance, stopping it suddenly causes disorientation. We commonly refer to this as withdrawal. In addition to withdrawal, this adaptation process also leads to increased tolerance for this substance. Physical dependence isn’t exclusive to street drugs. Alcohol abuse can cause physical dependence as well as many mental health medications and prescription opioids. You don’t have to be engaged in substance abuse to become dependent on it. Although abuse is more likely to lead to dependence.

Why Do People Develop Physical Dependency?

The human body is really good at making the best out of a bad situation. So if you start taking a substance, it’s going to figure out how to co-exist with it as best it can. This requires the brain and body to change how they function.

So, for example, let’s look at heroin. Heroin binds to the Mu Opioid Receptors (MORs) in your body. These receptors control several automatic functions like heart rate, breathing, temperature regulation, relaxation, pain, and pleasure. To prevent the heroin from lowering the heart rate and breathing, the body overcompensates to keep you alive. This doesn’t always work. But it’s what the body tries to do for survival.

The body now sees having heroin in the system as the new normal. Now, take the heroin away suddenly! The heart rate, breathing, and temperature control are all out of whack. They no longer know how to function normally because they’ve had to function with heroin for so long. How long you’ve been using the substance and how much of a tolerance you’ve built up to it strongly impact how severe withdrawal will be. But the withdrawal symptoms and cravings this causes aren’t just uncomfortable. They can also be dangerous and even deadly. For this reason, once you’ve become dependent, professionals may recommend:

In an addiction treatment program, you can reset the body to its natural balance and learn how to manage the psychological dependencies you’ve developed for the substance, which generally last longer than the physical ones.

What Are the Signs of Physical Dependence?

You may have symptoms like:

  • Physical cravings that are impossible to ignore
  • Needing more of the substance to get the same general feeling
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a certain amount of time without the substance, or the “correct” amount of the substance
  • Compromised immune system so you get sick more often and feel sick more often
  • Sudden changes in your weight
  • Frequent gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Frequent respiratory or flu-like symptoms
  • Troubles with memory, thinking, learning, and socializing

Addiction Treatment Can Help

Once you become physically dependant, the substance has taken control of your actions, mood, and thinking patterns. You may start to feel that this is the only way to be, and you’ll always need this substance. But those are the drugs talking. You can find healing and wellness through substance abuse treatment. Solution Based Treatment offers you a caring, welcoming community where you can safely overcome physical dependency and learn to live a fulfilling life without substances. Please don’t try to do this alone. We’re available to help when you call us at 833.999.1941.

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