Addiction, Physical Dependence, or Tolerance

Pain medication is commonly prescribed. People need pain medication for many different illnesses and chronic pain conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia.


Addiction, Physical Dependence, or Tolerance – Know The Difference

Many people don’t realize that addiction, physical dependence, and tolerance all are different things. In this instance, we will talk about them as they relate to pain medication.

Pain medication is commonly prescribed. People need pain medication for many different illnesses and chronic pain conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia. These conditions need drugs to treat them, including drugs for pain.

People who have prescriptions for pain problems can often end up abusing their prescriptions. Overprescribing of pain medication is all too common, especially for people who suffer pain. Long term use can lead to addiction.

Of course, not all people end up addicted to their medication. There are also different levels of how their body is responding to the medication. Distinguishing between these responses is important.

Addiction Defined

Addiction is classified as a disease by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). This is also the case for the American Pain Society (APS), and it is in relations of addiction to opioid pain medication.

It involves impulsive and irresistible cravings to use drugs regardless of harmful effects. Compulsive use is a symptom of addiction. 

Physical Dependence Defined

Physical dependence is when the body has adapted to the drug use. This means the body might respond with withdrawal if the drug is suddenly stopped. That doesn’t mean the person is addicted.

These symptoms of withdrawal may start because of a dose reduction or even another drug that lessens the effect.

Tolerance Defined

Tolerance is when the body adapts to the use of a drug. This means the body grows used to the effects and more is needed overtime to feel them. Developing tolerance to pain medication can lead to increased dosage, which can at least lead to physical dependence.

Developing tolerance does not mean someone will develop an addiction. Not if their doctor monitors them. Using drugs that people can become addicted to is a chance for addiction, not the primary cause.


Common behaviors associated with addiction might not always be an addiction. If someone is not receiving enough pain medication, then they can show similar symptoms. Using a drug even if it’s harmful doesn’t mean someone is addicted, it might mean they are still in pain.

Here are behaviors that are most prone to mean addiction:

–    Taking multiple doses at once

–    Not following the prescribed instructions

–    Constantly claiming to have lost your drugs or have had them stolen

–    Trying to get prescriptions from multiple doctors

–    Wanting too much time alone for no good reason

–    Using other drugs at the same time that are not prescribed

–    Having specific requests for the drug prescription

–    Complete disinterest in options that don’t have opioid drugs

Addiction is dangerous to the health of mind and body. Physical dependence itself is just the body’s natural response to having drugs in its system and isn’t worse. Tolerance can happen to any effect of the drug, and it can be hard to tell if someone is addicted or needs more medication to help them.

/ Addiction

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