When it comes to substance abuse recovery, we need to have the nomenclature clear if we want to be of help to those who are struggling. When we properly label things and give them a name, they tend to lose power over us, and we are more able to find specific ways to heal from them.
Contrary to popular belief, dependence and addiction are not the same things. If you or someone you know is struggling with the misuse of certain substances, it’s important to gain a keen insight into the distinction between the two. Here are the differences between dependence and addiction.
Definition of terms
But first, here are some definitions that the medical community often uses to describe the two:
- Dependence is marked by usually refers to the physical dependence that a patient is experiencing. It can be marked by symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. Because both words have been so enmeshed with each other for so long, not a lot of people know that it’s possible to be dependent on a substance without necessarily being addicted to it. But dependence does increase the likelihood of addiction.
- Addiction, on the other hand, is when a person experiences biochemical changes in the brain because of how much they have abused the substance. It’s when there is a clear change of behavior, and they now focus on consuming the substance, regardless of how it may cause harm to themselves and the people around them. Addiction throws all logic and rationality out the window. If substance dependence is focused on the physical effects, addiction encompasses the physical and mental reliance a person has on any substance.
Now that we have a broad idea of what makes the two phenomena different, here are some ways we can help people who are struggling with dependence or addiction, or both.
Help them see the merits of medical help
Whether they’re dependent, addicted, or both, you don’t need to wait for the situation to be dire before you suggest medical or professional help to them. If you find that they are constantly drunk no matter the time of day or what type of event you’re attending, now may be the best time to suggest a rehab facility for alcoholics. If your loved one is starting to steal money or valuable things around the house, that may be a sign that they have a drug habit they need to fund. Now is not the time to skirt around the idea of intervention. Seek help from a professional so you know how to broach the subject in gentle and kind ways. Your loved one needs you now more than ever.
How to help those who are dependent
The following are tips for how you can extend help to someone you love who may be dependent on alcohol, drugs, or other substances:
- Accompany them to their doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. If they have not sought medical help yet, encourage them to do so.
- Ask their doctor or primary caregiver about what you can do when their symptoms flare up. For many dependents, having withdrawal symptoms can be a very painful experience, so you need to be present and extend assistance to help relieve their discomfort. Some symptoms of withdrawal include changes in appetite, vomiting, changes in mood, physical tremors, congestion, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, shakiness, irritability, runny nose, pain in their muscles or joints, restlessness, and nausea. Be there for them when they experience these physical pains and discomforts. Aside from helping nurse them back to help, your presence might also be a soothing balm to their distress.
How to help those who are addicted
- Understand what made them turn to drugs or alcohol in the first place. Check if they have a diagnosed mental disorder, or if there’s a possibility that they have one but remain undiagnosed. The key to getting help is to seek help from medical professionals and specialists.
- Help them gain access to information and resources that they may not have. Tell them that help is available, and they don’t have to navigate this disease alone.
- Tell them that you will be with them every step of the way, no matter what their treatment might look like.
Be kind and gentle
And last but not the least, if you truly want to be an effective helper to your loved one, you have to act from a place of genuine love and concern, and not judgment. Be gentle, kind, and validating, and partner with people who understand dependence and addiction from a medical perspective.
Caring for our sick loved ones is a noble task. Believe in them and their future, and don’t give up. They are worth it.