Addiction is about more than making the conscious choice to use drugs or alcohol. It leaves a lasting impact on someone’s physical health as well, including the way their body functions on a daily basis. For instance, repeated substance use can cause them to develop something known as chemical dependency.
Chemical dependency fundamentally changes the way someone’s body processes a substance. This makes it all the more challenging to stop using it. Keep reading to understand why that is, as well as what can be done to overcome this early hurdle in addiction treatment.
What Is Chemical Dependency?
The term “chemical dependency” refers to a physical reliance on drugs or alcohol that develops after chronic, repeated substance use. To illustrate this more clearly, think about the body in its normal state as being a perfectly balanced scale. Each side contains the right assortment of chemicals to maintain equilibrium.
However, when someone uses drugs or alcohol, the scale becomes unbalanced. During this time, they experience the effects of the substance while their body works to process and expel it. Eventually, the substance’s effects wear off, and the body reaches equilibrium once more.
Things change when someone repeatedly uses addictive substances. Their body may be imbalanced more frequently than not. As a result, it may decide to add or remove chemicals from one side of the scale. These changes allow someone’s body to maintain equilibrium even when they use drugs or alcohol.
Unfortunately, this means that when they attempt to stop using a substance, their body will fall out of balance again. The changes it previously made to establish a “new normal” leave it unable to function properly without the presence of drugs or alcohol. As such, the body now has a chemical dependency on a certain foreign substance.
What Causes Chemical Dependency?
As mentioned previously, chemical dependency develops as a result of chronic alcohol or drug abuse. But why would someone continue to use a substance if doing so leads to a battle against physical dependency?
Initially, substance use may start as a pleasure-seeking behavior. Some drugs provide a euphoric “high” that makes people feel good while they’re using it. These types of highs can make drugs an appealing choice for someone looking for a way to relax and unwind.
In other cases, someone may use substances to cope with physical or emotional pain. For example, they may drink alcohol in the hopes of temporarily forgetting their problems, or misuse prescription opioids to cope with chronic pain.
No matter the reasoning, repeatedly using a substance builds something called tolerance. As someone’s body grows accustomed to a substance, they must take more of it to achieve the same effect. For instance, someone who once only had to drink a single glass of alcohol to feel its effects may need to start drinking two—then three, and so on.
A high tolerance not only increases the risk of overdose, as it can push someone to take dangerous amounts of a substance, but it also quickens the process of establishing chemical dependency. As they take higher doses, their body has to work harder to achieve balance, and it may make more extreme changes to maintain it.
How Does Chemical Dependency Lead to Addiction?
Having a physical dependency on any addictive substances means that, upon trying to stop using them, someone will enter a period of withdrawal. Withdrawal can consist of numerous unpleasant side effects, such as:
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Drug/alcohol cravings
- Elevated heart rate
- High blood pressure
Now, consider that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists withdrawal as one of the criteria for substance use disorder. With chemical dependency being a key piece in what makes someone experience withdrawal, it becomes easy to draw the connection between the two.
Furthermore, the easiest way for someone with a chemical dependency to avoid experiencing the above symptoms is to continue using alcohol or drugs. While this allows them to avoid withdrawal, it also continues to feed into a cycle of worsening substance abuse.
Does Chemical Dependency Affect the Treatment Process?
As discussed above, living with chemical dependency means that quitting a substance will trigger withdrawal symptoms. Because some symptoms can be dangerous, starting addiction treatment can feel intimidating. Even milder withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to confront without external support.
Fortunately, that support exists in the form of a medical detox. With professional guidance, it is possible to overcome chemical dependency in a safe and controlled manner. Furthermore, once the physical component of someone’s addiction is addressed, they can move on to the remaining mental and emotional issues.
A medical detox program allows a patient to stop using drugs and alcohol safely. As all traces of the substance exit their body, they remain under close medical supervision. The team of trained physicians and addiction experts responsible for their care works to soothe withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous complications from developing.
Chemical dependency is not a permanent effect of addiction. With the time and care allotted by a medical detox, a person’s body can re-learn how to function properly without drugs or alcohol. Once the physical barriers are dealt with, they can move on to address the emotional components of their substance abuse.
Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Brooksville, Florida
Springbrook Behavioral Hospital is a mental health and addiction treatment facility located in Brooksville, Florida. We help individuals who have a chemical dependency on prescription drugs, benzodiazepines, narcotics, alcohol, and other mind-altering substances.
Our detox services exist as part of our dual diagnosis program. This program utilizes tools like individual and family therapy, educational focus groups, and relapse prevention planning to help patients recover from both substance use disorder and other mental illnesses.
In addition, we offer other treatment programs to increase our flexibility and ensure we can provide care to as many people as possible. For example, our partial hospitalization program (PHP) helps individuals who would benefit from a less intensive level of care.
Get Professional Addiction Treatment Today
Substance abuse and dependence go hand-in-hand. We at Springbrook Behavioral Hospital understand the crucial role chemical dependency plays in addiction, and we work hard every day to help our patients overcome it. With individualized treatment plans and a relaxing, sober environment, you can pursue long-term recovery.