What Is Chemical Dependency?

The terms chemical dependency and addiction are frequently used interchangeably. However, it is important to note they are not one and the same. Although many addicts are chemically dependent on their substance of choice, not all who are chemically dependent are addicts. The two terms mean different things and understanding the difference is essential to helping friends, loved ones, or even yourself to seek necessary addiction treatment before dependency evolves into addiction. 


What Is Chemical Dependency?

Before defining chemical dependency, it is important to address addiction. In short, addiction is the compulsive use of drugs despite known harmful consequences. Addiction is almost always characterized by both a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. Addiction is a severe substance use disorder that results in physical and functional changes to the brain and body systems. 


Although addiction often includes chemical dependency, the opposite is not always true. Chemical dependence is a biological reaction to an additive chemical. Someone who struggles with chronic pain who uses opioid medications prescribed by their provider will inevitably develop a chemical dependence on the medication because of how the drugs interact with the brain and central nervous system. Chemical dependence develops when the receptors in the brain adapt to repeated drug exposure and can no longer function normally without the presence of the drug. When someone tries to stop using, they experience withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to life-threatening, as is often seen with withdrawal from opioids or alcohol. 


Is Chemical Dependency Genetic?

Genetic predisposition does indeed put some individuals at a higher risk of vulnerability to addiction. Several studies have shown that genetics may play a more significant role in addiction than many external factors. However, it is important to note that external factors will add an additional layer of challenge for someone who is already predisposed to addictive behaviors. Researchers have recently identified several key genes that play a role in specific types of addiction. For example, an individual with no serotonin receptor gene Htr1b is at greater risk of addiction to alcohol or cocaine. When someone has multiple “addiction genes,” the likelihood of developing dependency is higher. Some of these genetic traits are passed down (often with some variation), making heredity a critical factor in drug addiction across generations. 


How to Get My Loved One Help With Their Chemical Dependency

Both addicts and those who struggle with chemical dependency must seek comprehensive addiction treatment to ensure the best opportunity for safety and success as you end your struggle with substances. There is sometimes a question about what treatment should look like for someone who is chemically dependent versus someone with a substance use disorder. In some cases, those who struggle with chemical dependency may be successful in an outpatient treatment setting. However, this is mainly dependent on the type of substance on which you are dependent. Some substances such as prescription opioids (prescription painkillers) and alcohol should not be withdrawn without monitoring and safety, such as that found at a medically supervised detox program like Rise in Malibu. Symptoms related to opioid withdrawal can be intense, overwhelming, and sometimes dangerous or even fatal. 


For this reason, a treatment that includes medically assisted detox followed by comprehensive therapy and aftercare typically provides the greatest opportunities for treatment success, relapse prevention, and ongoing sobriety. Comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programs such as those found at our luxury Malibu facility can help you learn more about the roots of addiction while providing physical, psychological, and spiritual support throughout your recovery. 


If you are ready to begin your sobriety journey and take the first steps towards freedom and chemical dependency or addiction, reach out to the admissions team at Rise in Malibu today


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