Are addiction and dependence the same thing?

The short answer: no.

The longer answer: no, but they are closely related.

You have likely heard of someone having an issue with dependence on a certain substance, and perhaps you have always assumed that dependence always accompanied an addiction and vice versa. But it is a bit more complicated than that. To understand this better, let’s define a few of the terms that are at play here.

Mental Dependence

Mental or psychological dependence means that the use of a substance brings about a conditioned response. Pavlov’s experiment with the dogs and the bell could be considered to demonstrate a type of mental dependence in which the dogs began to rely on the sound of the bell as a signal that their physical needs were about to be met.

Physical Dependence

Therefore, physical dependence occurs when the conditioned response to a substance has a physical impact. A simple example of this is in the use of pain medications after an injury or procedure. The body depends on the medications in order to relieve or avoid pain, but when the pain becomes less prevalent, sometimes the body has become so dependent on the medications that it is compelled to continue taking and even abusing the medications.


The American Society of Addictive Medicine defines an addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” This is the compulsion to pursue the substance by all means necessary and without regard for the consequences. Addictions are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, perhaps due to genetic predispositions to addictive behavior. 

The Overlap

Dependences are always present in addictions, but it is possible for someone to have a mental or physical dependence without an addiction. There is a very fine line between the two, and many people assume that dependence and addiction are the same, but understanding the difference is a key component of getting the right help and treatment. 

addiction vs dependence

Cognitive-behavioral therapy in conjunction with talk therapy is a great first step to overcoming dependencies and addictions alike, so if you or a loved one are struggling with any of life’s difficulties, seriously pursue professional help. There is hope for you, and you do not have to continue to live this way.

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