Is a Chemical Dependence Treated the Same Way as an Addiction in Drug Treatment Programs?

The terms chemical dependency and addiction are two terms that are often interchanged, but they are two different conditions. Chemical dependency is the body’s reaction to an addictive substance or chemical. This occurs when the body becomes dependent on the medication, drug, or alcohol and it’s side effects. When the delivery of the substance is cut off, the individual who is dependent may begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal during the time period that the substance is leaving their system. In contrast, addiction is a neurological medical disorder that is recognized by the medical community and refers to the use and abuse of illegal drugs (methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, or heroin) or legal substances (nicotine, alcohol, or prescription drugs.

Chemical dependency alone is treatable and is not a chronic disorder, while addiction is a chronic disorder that must be treated long term. This is due to the fact that individuals with addiction often have cravings and thoughts regarding their substance(s), even after the substance has been detoxed out of their system. An individual who experiences chemical dependency may be treated and never experience recurring thoughts or cravings regarding the substance or drug they were chemically dependent on.

Treatment of Chemical Dependency versus Addiction

Chemical dependency has been defined as the abuse of alcohol or drugs, that continues even after substantial problems have developed due to the use of these substances. These problems related to substance use can include higher tolerance level, withdrawal symptoms when unable to obtain the drug, health problems, social difficulty or issues, and the lack of ability to discontinue the use of the substance even after problems have occurred. Continual abuse of substances or alcohol can also lead to the development of chemical dependency. Addiction and chemical dependency can co-occur and indicate that an individual is both psychologically and physically dependent on. An example of being chemically dependent on a substance is the development of delirium tremens in individuals who are dependent on alcohol.

Delirium tremens includes hallucinations, violent shaking, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting. The medically safe way to detox from substances is through detoxification in a clinical setting with medical supervision. Clinical detoxification centers provide 24 hour support and supervision from medical professionals who are highly educated and experienced in the detoxification and treatment of chemical dependency and addiction. It is important to note that all individuals are unique and there is not one treatment that is ideal for everyone. Addiction and chemical dependency are complex conditions that are made up of many factors that are determined by the patient being treated. Treatments for chemical dependency and addiction should take into account the following factors:

  • Individual factors
  • Availability of a strong support network
  • The severity of the addiction or chemical dependency

In general, many treatment plans consist of different treatments in varying combinations and timelines depending on the factors discussed previously. Detoxification is typically the first step of any treatment program and it is meant to guide the patient through withdrawal and help them ease their withdrawal symptoms in order to safely remove the substance from the body. Detoxification can be medically supervised or non-medical depending on the severity of symptoms. Next, individuals receiving treatment for addiction often enter a residential treatment center or an outpatient treatment center, depending on the severity of their dependency or addiction. Residential treatment centers, or inpatient treatment, is a long-term therapy that takes place in a setting with 24 hour care. This type of treatment can last anywhere from 30 days to an entire year.

Most inpatient treatment facilities offer treatment that is comprehensive and provide a large range of services that can include medical evaluations, assistance transitioning after treatment, employment assistance, and family therapy. Outpatient treatment is often recommended to individuals who have less severe cases of dependency or addiction. Outpatient treatment occurs in a setting that is outside the home and patients are not required to stay there overnight. Outpatient treatment typically involves many different services for their patients including vocational training, medical management, and case management. If you or a loved one would like more information regarding the treatment of chemical dependency, please contact us today at 833-846-5669. We look forward to speaking with you.