It’s a common misconception that terms associated with harmful behavior concerning substance abuse are interchangeable. The difference between addiction, dependence, and tolerance reveals the spectrum of addiction. Out of 8.1 million drug users, 25.4% suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD).
Substance use disorder (SUD) is identified by signs and symptoms arranged on a broad spectrum. Each term is characterized by how drugs affect an individual’s body and brain. To effectively address drug abuse, the differences between these terms must be distinguished.
Distinguishing the terms will help clients, families, and friends recognize the signs and symptoms associated with each to ensure proper support. This article will analyze the terms and their severity in relation to substance use disorder. It will provide information on the signs and symptoms to look for, the impact associated with each stage, and the available recovery options.
The Spectrum of Substance Abuse
As a parent or family member, you may wonder when substance use gets to a point where it is a medical disorder. Is it the amount or how frequently alcohol and other substances are consumed?
While the term “addiction” does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5), it is generally regarded as a severe substance use disorder. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders. It is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.
Addiction is defined by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a chronic disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences. It can result in long-lasting changes in the brain. It’s more complicated than other diseases, as it’s considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.
The important point to remember is that all substance use disorders are treatable regardless of whether they are mild, moderate or severe. The earlier families intervene and take steps to help a child or other loved one, the better.
What Is Tolerance?
Being tolerant to a substance is characterized as a person’s body becoming so used to it that they need more to feel its effect. Repeated substance use can lead to the brain adapting to the presence of the substance and becoming accustomed to its effects. This can lead to a person no longer responding to the substance in the same way. Consequently, a person may increase their substance use as their tolerance increases in order to feel the desired effect.
While tolerance to a substance can build over time from repeated use, studies show that it can develop in a matter of hours or days. Tolerance doesn’t always occur as a result of misuse.
The process of becoming tolerant to a substance is described as when the cells in the body that usually activate when present stop responding in the same way. This then leads to people taking more of the substance to seek the initial effect. Increased tolerance can lead to an increase in the frequency of substance use. This can then lead to developing physical dependency and developing an addiction.
The risk of high tolerance is that the continued excessive use of a substance may place an individual at risk of a fatal overdose.
Signs and symptoms
Whether a substance is used for recreational purposes or prescribed, there is potential for tolerance of the substance to build up. Signs and symptoms of tolerance can be difficult to recognize. Noticing signs of in a friend or loved one can help prevent the development of dependence, addiction, or an overdose. Some common symptoms associated with tolerance include:
- Using more of a substance than usual.
- Denial of the effects of a substance, yet, exhibiting the behavior of substance misuse.
Symptoms of tolerance can be difficult to recognize in yourself. Some common symptoms of tolerance include:
- Not feeling the same effect you once did from using a substance.
- Using more of a substance to achieve the desired result.
- Mixing of substances to achieve the desired effect.
If you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of substance tolerance, it’s not too late to get support. A great way to aid recovery is to seek therapeutic support.
What Is Dependence?
The National Institute on drug misuse characterizes dependence as a state in which a person functions normally only in the presence of a substance. The brain becomes more tolerant as a result of abuse. It begins to rely on the presence of the substance to function. Hence, when a person tries to stop using a substance, the balance is tilted, causing them to experience symptoms of withdrawal.
You can distinguish tolerance from substance dependence as dependence means that when a person stops using a substance they experience a range of withdrawal symptoms from mild to severe.
Signs and symptoms
Recognizing signs and symptoms of dependence can be the solution to helping yourself or your family member to receive the proper treatment and support to get life back on track. Some common signs and symptoms of dependence include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in mood
Recovering from substance dependence involves following a carefully laid out treatment plan that will help you or your family member come off the substance to help to minimize health risks and reduce feelings of discomfort.
What Is Addiction?
The American Psychiatric Association characterizes addiction as taking more of a substance than was initially intended or taking it for a longer period of time, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to stop using a substance.
Unlike tolerance and dependence, addiction is characterized as a disease. Where addiction differs from tolerance and dependence is in the inability for someone to stop using a substance regardless of the negative impact on their lives and the lives of others.
The inability of a person to stop using a substance can lead to negative consequences within their life. A severe addiction can create ripples in a person’s life, and the effects aren’t enough to stop using.
When a person is addicted to a substance, they may begin to exhibit different behaviors. The repeated use of substances can change how a brain functions, leading to radical changes that affect decision-making, judgment, and cognitive abilities.
Signs and symptoms
Recognizing the signs of addiction can help to start a meaningful conversation that may lead to significant changes. If you have a family member or friend that you suspect may be having difficulty with addiction, some common signs of addiction include.
- Experiencing financial trouble.
- Social problems of failing at work or school.
- Lying or being secretive.
- Stealing money.
- Shaking or tremors.
- Reckless behavior such as driving under the influence.
Only the person using the substance can experience its symptoms. Common symptoms of addiction include:
- Finding it difficult to control the addictive behavior.
- Drastic mood swings.
- Unexpected changes in energy.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great option to help provide tangible skills and tools to help move towards recovery.
AspenRidge Recovery: Treating Full-Spectrum of Substance Abuse
AspenRidge Recovery offers continual support to individuals struggling with substance abuse. If you or a family member are experiencing substance use disorder symptoms, it’s not too late to seek help. We offer care that is focused on transitioning clients to a state of recovery as they progress through their treatment, as well as a lifetime of recovery support.
We offer a range of recovery options for supporting those experiencing symptoms within the spectrum of addiction.
- Day Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- AspenRidge REACH Online IOP
- IOP for Professionals and Working Adults
- Outpatient Program
- Alumni & Aftercare Program
Contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-281-5588 to speak to staff about the various programs and treatments available.