Drug dependence is substance addiction which is the physical and/or psychological need for a drug. When using drugs becomes the focus of a person's life and interferes with his or her ability to cope without the drug, dependence is likely. A dependency on drugs tends to involve the user associating with other drug abusers as well as behavioral and health changes. When an addict tries to stop using the substance, withdrawal symptoms result, so treatment is usually done gradually with medical supervision.
When drug taking is repeated beyond prescribed usage, it often leads to a pattern of drug dependence and tolerance. Tolerance is the body's need for larger or more frequent doses of a substance to achieve the same effect. It occurs when the body has learned to tolerate, or become used to, the substance. Taking a prescribed drug in the doses recommended by a doctor for a short period of time for a certain purpose is not dependence, but going beyond that usage could easily lead to a dependency.
When dependency or addiction is reached, stopping the drug or not getting large enough doses will result in withdrawal. Specific withdrawal symptoms depend on each drug, but anxiety, sweating, shaking, nausea, vomiting and muscle pain are commonly experienced by addicts. Several withdrawal symptoms may include confusion and hallucinations. Hallucinations are the experience of seeing, feeling or hearing things not actually there.
Not all medications are addictive and not all drugs are addictive in the same way. Some drugs cause physical dependency, while others cause a more psychological addiction. Still others have both properties in terms of drug dependence. Alcohol can be both psychologically and physically addictive. Heroin and morphine are severely physically addictive, while marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy are thought to cause a more psychological dependence.
Treatment for drug dependence must be done on an individual basis. Substance addiction treatment may consist of a combination of counseling, drug therapy and self-help techniques. Self-help possibilities include the addict seeking help from sources such as treatment centers and books. Drug therapy, or pharmacotherapy, is a controlled amount of drugs that is gradually decreased and given to an addict to help prevent strong withdrawal symptoms. Counseling for drug dependency is available in different types and may involve family therapy and behavioral therapy to help the addict learn to live without drugs.