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Drug dependence

Addiction is a word that is used to describe being dependent on a substance. At YSAS we use the word dependence because terms like addiction are stigmatising as they label a person by their behaviours not by who they are.

Dependence on alcohol or other drugs means you rely on a substance to feel good or normal or to cope with everyday life.

Most drugs have the potential to cause dependence if used often and/or over a long period of time. How long it takes to become dependent and what dependence looks likes vary from one person to another and are impacted by which drug(s) they are using.

Regular drug use can result in developing a tolerance, which means more of a drug is needed each time to get the same effect.

Drug or alcohol use may start as an occasional or recreational activity but if use becomes much more frequent or intensive and a person’s tolerance builds (meaning more of a drug is needed each time to get the same effect) a person can start to become dependent on the substance.

There are two types of dependence:

Physical dependence

Physical dependence is when the body slowly becomes used to having a substance, and it starts to need it to function normally.

Making and maintaining changes

Psychological dependence is when use has become an important part of daily life and helps someone feel ‘normal’, it also makes stopping or cutting down very hard.

Often when someone is dependent on a drug they are experiencing both a physical and psychological dependence. Both kinds of dependence can affect mental health and physical health.

Being dependent on drugs can cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and a sense of being out of control.

Substance dependence can have very negative effects on relationships, wellbeing and health. People might feel like they cannot function or feel comfortable without drugs. They may have cravings which are constant and intense. Other signs of dependence include spending more money than they can afford to keep up their supply, and doing things they wouldn’t have previously done to get drugs.