For Patients

Suboxone: The Difference Between Addiction and Dependence

Written by newadmin

The difference between addiction and dependence can be difficult to understand, however, it is still important to understand. Medication-Assisted Treatment has been proven to be one of the most effective methods in the fight against opioid addiction. However, heavy stigma is still alive and well today with the belief that people will fall into suboxone addiction

Understanding key differences helps to break down this stigma. In order to continue working against the opioid epidemic and helping addicts get clean, this understanding needs to be recognized across the board. Your brain plays a substantial role in this equation.

Addiction and dependence actually affect different parts of your brain. Addiction follows the reward pathway, while dependence follows the brain stem to the thalamus.

Addiction can occur without physical dependence and vice versa. Modern evidence-based treatments center around this understanding that addiction and dependence are in-fact different. In order to become more self-aware and receive the best treatment possible, it is imperative that an addict understands this concept too.

What is Addiction

Having an addiction is classified as having a disease. An addict is a frequent drug or alcohol user, going to great lengths to obtain such drugs. Addiction causes the person to have uncontrollable cravings, which can lead to compulsive drug use. The uncontrollable cravings are the result of the addict’s brain becoming altered. This makes it difficult to stop using the drug.

People with an addiction may know they are causing harm to themselves and others, but are unable to stop. They may experience social and mental or physical health problems. These could include loss of their job, increased family tension, severe anxiety, and kidney failure. Mental illnesses can arise after extended drug use or may be made worse.

The common symptoms of people experiencing addiction are:

Social problems. An addict will experience an increase in social related problems. Since they are willing to do anything for drugs and alcohol, this may put themselves, friends, or family in danger. Family members and friends may not know how to handle the addict or may become enablers, causing tension. Addicts may give up hobbies they used to enjoy to use drugs or alcohol instead. They may lose their job or drop out of school, due to missing days or arriving under the influence.

Uncontrollable use. The addict is unable to slow down or stop drug and alcohol use. They may have attempted and failed. An addict can feel out of control and feel as though the addiction is running them.

Risk-taking behavior. An addict will sometimes do anything for their next fix. They may find themselves in risky situations that could lead them to harm. Their bodies and mental state may start to deteriorate, but the addict will not stop.


Addicts should consult a medical professional about their condition, as each case is unique. Addicts usually become enrolled in a treatment center or rehabilitation. This provides them with one on one support, peer counseling, and different treatment options to get sober.

What is Dependence?

When a person’s body is reliant on a drug in order to not experience physical symptoms of withdrawal, it is referred to as dependence. In normal circumstances, the body can produce enough endorphins to minimize withdrawal effects. However, this changes if the body’s tolerance is heightened. The body will soon become reliant on the substance. The body merely adapts to the drug and requires more of it to produce the same effects. This is also called building tolerance.

Physical dependence can be associated with many drugs, not just opioids. However, physical dependence usually accompanies opioid addiction. A body can be physically dependent on caffeine, nicotine, and prescription drugs.

Physical Symptoms

The key factor to physical dependence is the physical symptoms a person will experience when they stop taking a substance. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, with some even being life-threatening. A person who drinks three cups of coffee every morning may suddenly decide not to have any coffee one morning. That person will most likely experience withdrawal from the caffeine, usually resulting in a headache. While it depends on the type of drug, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms like difficulty sleeping, sickness, and fatigue.

Treatment for Suboxone Dependence 

The goal of addiction treatment is to change how the brain is wired when associated with addiction, but this does not always solve physical dependence. To receive optimal results, doctors treating dependence will suggest tapering off approach. Medications will be given to the person in order to maintain the dependence, but minimize the symptoms. This helps to slowly rewire the brain and helps to eliminate the tolerance associated with the substance.


It is important to recognize the difference between addiction and dependence, not just for the addict’s benefit but also for the healthcare providers’ and the general public. Becoming familiar with the distinguishing factors of both addiction and dependence will help to eliminate the stigma surrounding treatment. An addict suffering from addiction will experience more behavioral changes that can lead them down a path of harm. A person going through dependence may be experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms. Addiction does not have to exist with dependence and vice-versa.

About the author


Leave a Comment

Have an addiction specialist help you.
Find the treatment you deserve!