When it comes to drugs and alcohol, a common concern is taking it too far; even one-time uses can cause someone to become physically dependent or addicted to the substance. Although these two terms are used quite often in conversations surrounding recovery, what exactly is the difference? Knowing the difference between these two terms could mean that you can recognize the signs in someone you love to help them seek treatment.

ABC News states that while there is some overlap, there is a difference between addiction and physical dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that addiction can cause a person to continue using a drug despite the negative consequences that it has one one’s work, family, and social life. Physical dependence is means that the body has adapted to the drug, which means that the user must take more and more of it for the person to achieve the same “high”. Below is a descriptive comparison of both addiction and physical dependency:


  • Often classified as abnormal/as a disease.
  • Involves the manifestation of uncontrollable cravings, inability to control or stop drug use, and compulsively using despite consequences
  • Uncontrollable cravings that spark the addiction

Physical Dependence

  • The body relies on the substance to prevent withdrawal.
  • It is predictable, easily managed with medication, and can be resolved with a slow taper off the substance.
  • Many things, such as caffeine, nicotine, sugar, anti-depressants, and more can cause a person to become physically dependent.

The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment notes that dependency has been used to describe both addiction and physical dependency, which has caused much confusion. The main difference between the two is that addiction involves physical and behavioral changes leaning towards a substance, whereas a person with physical dependency may not have any behavior changes but their body may become tolerant of a substance. Thus, a person can be physically dependent on something without being addiction to it. An example of this would be physically dependent on sugar because they have consumed sugar consecutively for an extended period. Although the body craves, that person may not necessarily act differently or find themselves unable to control the amount of sugar they consume each day.

If you are seeking treatment for an addiction, call us today at 888-316-3665. New Vista Behavioral Health is a family of renowned mental health and addiction recovery treatment centers with high standards and professional care. Our treatment centers are focused on distinctive patient care, evidence-based treatment modalities and unwavering compassion. Build your support team by calling us today for a consultation.


Addiction and behavioral healthcare are within reach when you join us at New Vista Behavioral Health:
A far-reaching horizon and new perspective toward addiction recovery, wellness and restoration. We are a national and renowned family of treatment centers focused on distinctive patient care, evidence-based treatment modalities and unwavering compassion.

If you are ready to pursue a life committed to your health, relationships and emotional well-being, you have a team that is willing to walk alongside you and restore hope for your future. Let us help you in taking the first step in your journey to recovery.

Most insurance accepted –
verify yours now

*Coverage may vary by facility, including both in-network and out of network options.