When discussing substance abuse, people often misconstrue the meanings of tolerance, dependence, and addiction, believing them to be the same thing. However, these terms describe the various ways drugs impact a person’s brain, body, and overall health. Understanding the differences between the three can help individuals recognize the different stages of addiction in themselves and others, allowing for healing to happen sooner.

Defining Tolerance

The term “tolerance” refers to the physical response of a person’s body to drugs and alcohol. The response lessens over time, meaning the person will need a larger amount of the substance to achieve the same effects from when it was first consumed. The more a person uses a substance, the higher their tolerance will be. Different substances will impact how quickly a tolerance develops. For example, prescription drug tolerance occurs over a longer period of time compared to cocaine tolerance.

Defining Dependence

When discussing dependence, the term refers to the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person ceases the use of drugs or alcohol. Symptoms differ depending on the substance, with some resulting in more severe withdrawal than others. The best way to avoid these symptoms is to gradually wean yourself off of the substance rather than quitting “cold turkey.” Withdrawal can be life-threatening depending on the substance, how long it has been used, the method of use, and the amount used each time, so it is best to check with an accredited program to see if you should undergo medical detox.

Defining Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease that develops over time when a person continually abuses substances and eventually cannot stop even when facing negative life consequences. While tolerance and dependence do not necessarily point to an addiction, they are a part of the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. This is why it is essential to check with a professional to see if a person is exhibiting other signs and symptoms of addiction. Displaying tolerance or dependence can point to the presence of addiction, even if it is mild. Comprehensive treatment is the best option for treating addiction and helping a person maintain lifelong recovery.

Tolerance, dependence, and addiction can be confusing terms if you are not accustomed to the vocabulary of substance use disorders. Understanding these words is crucial when you believe you or someone you know may be struggling with an addiction. Alta Loma Transformational Services is actively working to educate those struggling and the general public on addiction to reduce the stigma and help reach those that need treatment. Our programs cater to a variety of needs, and our team will work with you one-on-one to ensure you have the best chance at a successful recovery. Call us today to learn more at (866) 457-3843.