Chemical Dependency

When we think of chemical dependency, many of us think of drug addiction. While there is a subtle difference between the two, when it comes to dealing with chemical drug use and abuse, the line between them is often blurry at best. According to the National Institute of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine, drug dependency occurs when an individual is unable to function normally without the use of the drugs to which their body has become accustomed. Addiction occurs when the individual uses drugs in a compulsive manner even though they are suffering negative effects, either socially, economically or physically, because of the drug use. Both conditions can occur simultaneously and the National Institute of Drug Abuse uses the terms interchangeably.

One could be physically dependent on a drug without suffering from the disease of addiction. However, recognizing when you or someone you love has become dependent on a drug can prevent the condition from progressing into addiction if you seek help early enough. This does not mean that dependence isn’t a problem, by itself.

Drug Dependence Can Occur With Responsible Use of Prescription Drugs

anxiety and painThere are many health conditions for which medication is necessary. Some of these conditions are physical and others are mental or psychological. For instance:

  • Anxiety disorders may include post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or panic disorder, which are sometimes treated with mood-altering medications.
  • Major depression can range from intense sadness to postpartum depression to bipolar disorder that is mitigated with the use of antidepressants.
  • Chronic pain issues are often times not curable; however, many individuals suffering from cancer, arthritis or nerve damage endure treatments, including addictive medications, for many years.
  • Short-term pain issues that result from surgery, car accidents or on-the-job injuries can also lead to the use of medications that increase one’s likelihood of dependence and addiction.

Chemical dependence to a legally prescribed drug to treat one or more of these conditions can occur, even if the person taking the drugs does so in accordance with the directions given to them by their doctor. In fact, according to Medline Plus, it is possible to develop dependence to drugs such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Percocet – all opiate based painkillers – during the course of a single hospital stay for an injury or corrective surgery.

When the individual prescribed the drugs stops taking them, they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. This does not mean they were addicted to the drug, by definition, but it is an indication of physical chemical dependence.
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Irresponsible Use of Prescription Drugs

Did you know that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more people died of overdose from prescription pain medications in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined? Many of the drugs that are prescribed to help people get well are abused by those people, as well as friends, family members and others (including health professionals) who have access to those medications. There exists a short litmus test to determine whether you might be in danger of developing a chemical dependency to these types of drugs.

All you have to do is ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Am I taking this medication because it was prescribed to me?
  • Am I taking this medication in the proper dosage?
  • Am I taking this medication to get well or to get high?

If you are taking the medication to get high, or outside your doctor’s orders, then you are using a dangerous prescription drug irresponsibly. This behavior can lead to dependency and addiction.

Withdrawal Symptoms and Other Signs

So, how do you know if you’re actually dependent upon a chemical drug? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defines mental disorders and the characteristics of those disorders so physicians and mental health professionals can more readily determine various conditions in a consistent manner. By the definition contained in this manual, according to the National Institute of Health, dependency has several distinct characteristics.

The characteristics for chemical drug dependence are:

  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Taking too much of a drug
  • Inability to stop using the drug
  • Drug-seeking behavior
  • Irresponsibility
  • Ignoring the negative effects of drug use

It is possible to develop any one or more of these signs of dependency to a specific chemical substance, but you do not have to suffer from all of them. If any three of these “symptoms” occur over a 12-month period in your immediate history, then you may qualify for a diagnosis related to chemical dependency.

Tolerance Is Unavoidable

drug issuesPeople take drugs for many reasons. Some just want to feel good or better than they feel without drugs. This is as true for legally prescribed medications as it is for illicit substances like cocaine or heroin. The human brain reacts to various drugs in various ways, but most drugs affect the levels of dopamine produced and reabsorbed by the brain’s neurotransmitters. Because dopamine is largely responsible for the pleasure we feel, the artificial increase in dopamine levels is what creates the euphoric feeling most drug users crave.

The negative side of this process, however, is the brain’s inability to adequately create dopamine on its own. It will take more and more of the drug to recreate that initial euphoria. As this process takes place, the tolerance for the drug is increased.
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Withdrawal Ranges From Mild to Severe

Withdrawal symptoms vary according to the types of chemicals one has introduced. Cocaine, for instance, has very mild or non-existent withdrawal symptoms on a physical level. Heroin, on the other hand, will generally leave an individual incapacitated and violently ill during the early withdrawal process, known as detoxification. Both of these drugs are incredibly dangerous and addictive, and both can lead to death when abused.

Lack of Control Can Indicate a Compulsion

An individual may be in a situation where he will consume a drug. Often, this person might intend to use only a small dose of a drug, but after taking that drug his inhibitions are lessened. Perhaps, his judgment is impaired. He then may decide to take more of the drug. Within a short span of time, he has taken far more of the drug than he originally intended because he was simply unable to stop using the drug until there were no more available, or his body rejected the substance. He might even pass out or become unconscious.

This compulsion to use the drug is indicative of both dependence and addiction, with a very fine line separating the issues.


When an individual is unable to stop using a drug, he or she may be dependent upon the drug’s effects. This goes to the very heart of the dependency issue in that the individual is unable to feel “normal” without using the drug. Because of the chemical’s control over the neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain, the person cannot feel happy or joyful, or even physically well, without the artificial creation of dopamine.
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Drug-Seeking Behavior Is a Time-Consuming and Destructive Pattern

The necessity to find and use drugs is often a fulltime job for some individuals who suffer from chemical dependency. An individual might travel from one doctor’s office to another repeatedly presenting with the same or similar symptoms, for instance, in an attempt to obtain multiple prescriptions for their drug of choice. This practice is known as “doctor shopping,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Physicians are encouraged to screen potential and existing patients carefully to discover the activity and offer help to those who have developed a dependency. Other drug-seeking behaviors include frequent visits to the emergency departments of various hospitals.

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Irresponsible Behavior Patterns Can Be Signs of Growing Dependency

out of control drug useA mother neglects to pick up her children from a family member who has been babysitting. An employee doesn’t show up for work for several days. A high school student fails to study or prepare for a final exam that will determine whether she graduates with her class. The desire to use drugs can overpower even the most necessary and common-sense-driven activities of our lives. We can ultimately blow off important tasks. Nothing matters more to the dependent drug user than obtaining and using drugs.
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Use of Drugs Despite Harmful Consequences to Social, Financial and Family Life

The woman who fails to pick up her children is reported to the local state department for the welfare of children. The gentleman who fails to show up for work is fired. The student who doesn’t study and skips the final exam doesn’t graduate from high school. These are all terrible social effects of decisions that change lives forever. They are financial, as well, because of the monetary costs involved. If these three individuals continue to use drugs, even after these issues occur, they are most likely addicted to their drugs of choice. They may suffer from a physical chemical dependency that is controlling their thought patterns in a dangerous and destructive way.
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Getting Help for Dependency Is Possible and Necessary for Survival

While it’s true that using drugs for purposes other than medical necessity for the very first time is often a choice, at Axis, we also understand that dependency and addiction are powerful. Continued drug use can be difficult to overcome without help, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s publication Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment. Rather than fighting the chemical dependency in your life on your own, why not let our trained, competent and caring staff members teach you new and better ways to overcome the problems you and your family face every day?
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To find out more about chemical dependency and addiction, please contact us as soon as you can. We are here for only one reason – and that reason is to help you overcome dependency and lead a happier, more productive life.