When Substance Abuse Becomes Substance Dependence

Substance dependence is usually called addiction, and we customarily use the term to describe people who seem enslaved to the substance concerned. Yet there is much disagreement among experts as to just what constituents substance dependence.

A person may be physiologically dependent when greater and greater amounts of the drug are required to experience the same effect. This is referred to as tolerance. A person is addicted to a drug when the removal of the drug from the system results in physical symptoms (withdrawal).

A common example of this occurs when you get to work and can’t function without your morning coffee. Addiction to coffee is more frequent than commonly thought and is a real addiction in itself. Over time the coffee addict with require caffeine in stronger hits as well as earlier and earlier in the morning and also during times of increased stress. Cessation of caffeine intake results in the common withdrawal symptoms of headaches and irritability and inability to concentrate. These symptoms are relieved by a simple cup of coffee.

However, coffee addiction can and does occur and overindulgence of coffee results in health problems which include sleeplessness, jitteriness, gastrointestinal problems and ultimately interpersonal problems.

Another view of substance dependence uses the degree of “drug-seeking behaviors” to define whether dependence has taken place. Example of drug-seeking behavior is standing out in the extreme cold and experiencing discomfort so as to enjoy a cigarette; stealing money and housebreaking would be an example of another drug-seeking behavior that gives a strong indication of the level of dependence on the drug. These behavioral reactions are different to the physiological responses described above.

Can you use drugs and not abuse them? Yes. Many people enjoy a glass of wine with their meal every so often and there it ends. We are all familiar with the opposite end of this spectrum. Can you abuse drugs and not become addicted to them? Although not commonly known, there are some people who can use drugs such as heroin, nicotine, alcohol and cocaine without becoming addicted to them. The problem is that no-one can see into the future to determine which people will succumb to addiction and which ones won’t.


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