(This node kind of sucks. Read Is pot addictive? instead.)
There is something of a difference.

Addiction is the more generic term; all it means is that you're doing something and you can't stop. The thing you're addicted to does not have to be chemically a narcotic. It does not have to be a chemical. It does not have to be harmful; the point is you can't stop. Whether you want to stop or not is unimportant, only that you can't. Marijuana, Heroin and a lot of prescription drugs are all addictive. So is chocolate. So is IRC. So is sex.

The difference between an addiction and a chemical dependency is most clear if you examine the difference between IRC and heroin. IRC, you do it a lot, and after awhile you just don't really want to stop. Awhile after that, you discover you do want to stop-- you're tired of it-- but somehow, every time you turn on that computer, your hand moves that cursor over that IRC client icon and double-clicks. Maybe you don't stop because you don't know how to stop; because you have nothing better to do; because you've come to get something out of it you can't get anywhere else. Either way, you have an addiction. You have a need. You do not have a chemical dependency.

Chemical dependency creates need as well, but to a much worse degree. And the difference lies in what happens when you violate that need.

Now think about what happens when you take heroin. You have actual chemicals (endorphins, or approximations thereof) going through your veins there, chemicals that aren't there normally in that intensity. And the chemicals make you feel good. IRC releases chemicals that make you feel good, too-- but those chemicals are supposed to be there. Those chemicals your brain put there, because that's how feelings work more or less. But the chemicals the heroin sets loose aren't supposed to be there, and they do funky things. Specifically they go and find your pain transmitters, and plug them up so the pain can't go through. So the pain stops. Physical pain, emotional pain, whatever-- it can't get through.

The thing this naively ignores is that your body is designed to route around damage. And if you have transmitters being plugged that your brain didn't plug, it will interpret that as damage and route around it. It will grow new transmitters.

You now have new pain transmitters that you didn't have before. Meaning you now transmit pain more efficiently. And so as soon as that heroin goes away and the transmitters are no longer being blocked, you will go into effectively the opposite of a heroin rush; you will now be more receptive to pain than you were before. This is what a low is. This is what withdrawal is.

Thing is, those new transmitters you just grew don't go away. They stay there. It's permanent. And that's what a chemical dependency is; you now no longer are able to function the way you were before normally. Something that before your body could supply naturally now has to be supplied by the heroin. And so you are dependent on it, not for something that the substance gives you, but for something the absence of the substance has taken away.

So you do IRC for awhile and stop it, and you have nothing missing; you are the same person; the only thing beckoning you back is the memory. Take heroin for awhile and stop it, and a part of you is gone; you chemically are missing an ability that you had before, because your body is giving out the same chemicals naturally but your biological need for those chemicals has been increased.

So the question i want answered: i know that pot and ecstasy are addictive. That much is obvious. But do they create a chemical dependency? If so, how much? If they do it to you at all, i would find it hard to believe they do it to a degree comparable to, say, the degree nicotine does it to you.
I've known people who have gotten into marijuana deeply and just walked away-- but i've never known anyone who has smoked cigarettes for more than a week and been able to stop. This is not exactly a definitive scientific test as to severity of dependency, but it does seem that the government has some odd priorities in terms of what addictive substances should be legal. I'm quite likely wrong, and if someone who knows what they're talking about would like to correct me i would be happy to listen..

StrawberryFrog: You make good points, but any disagreements you seem to be making with me seem to be based on different definitions of words and phrases. I was defining "chemical dependency" as a case where taking the drug leaves you biologically unable to function at the level you did before without the drug, something that heroin and nicotine both seem to do..

As for growing new pain receptors, i did not say this is what causes withdrawal or addiction or dependency or whatever you wish to call it-- i said that this was the case with heroin. I was trying to describe part of the process of a specific example, not the general process for all examples. I apologize for being unclear, and will rewrite this node when i get around to it. If the process i stated is not the case with heroin i apologize; however, it is what my biology teacher my freshman year quite clearly stated was part of why heroin creates such a need for itself after you have taken it. I tried to find some support backing me up on the internet, but failed in locating anything. I may be wrong, but if so it's because a biology teacher lied to me, so cut me some slack.. -_- sorry!

Actually the previous writeup on this is fairly wrong in alot of ways. As I understand it Dependancy can be to anything and clinical addiction is more specific.

And to be specific, addiction has 3 parts. ALL of these parts must be present, else it falls into dependancy. They are:

  1. Tolerance
  2. Reward (correct term?)
  3. Withdrawl syndrome

Tolerance means that, "the more you do it, the more you need". This is common with many drugs. People who drink alcohol may remember being drunk off one or two beers their first time drinking. Then subsequently if you keep drinking long enough, you can keep down a six pack.

Withdrawal on the other hand I can't say I know the causes of. Some withdrawal syndromes are completely psycological (and thus are not physical withdrawls - even if they feel to the user to be very phsyical - like cocaine. Cocaine has no physical cause for its withdrawl syndrome, and this is dependance forming, not addictive)

Substances are ranked on a relative scale according to each of these attributes. Those that score low on all three are not addictive. Those that score high on all of them (like nicotine and heroin which are both right at the top of all 3 catagories) are extremely addictive.

Pot ranks somewhere around where caffeine is. Somewhat less than alcohol.

Also withdrawal is not necessarily caused by excess new pain receptors, that never go away. In fact I have never heard of this as being the case. (receptors btw do get both destroyed and created though). It is more the case that the presense of the drug not only activates pleasurable receptors, it also activates the feedback mechanisms too. It can cause buildups or deficits of important chemicals in the body/brain...these take time for the body to correct. The body is used to having this other chemical level there...it is gone.

Tobacco is a dirty weed. I like it.
It satisfies no normal need. I like it.
It make you thin, it makes you lean,
It takes the hair right off your bean.
It's the worst darn stuff I've ever seen.
  I like it.
  - "An American undergraduate named Graham Lee Himminger in the Pennsylvania State University Froth, 1915", quoted by John Barth in the preface to The Sot-weed factor

Addiction is a loose term that means different things to different people. Wikipedia defines it as "an uncontrollable compulsion to repeat a behaviour regardless of its negative consequences." But people don't do things with only negative consequences. We eat chocolates when the immediate positive subjective consequences of the taste outweigh the known long-term negative ones.

Few would deny that a long-term heroin user or tobacco smoker experiences powerful cravings, that those cravings are both a physiological and psychological need that has been induced by, and is now satisfied by the drug and the feeling that it creates. Most people would have a great deal scepticism that "internet addiction" and "workaholic" are much more than metaphors, and are not really in the same category as hard drug addiction for most people who claim them.

We seem to be better disposed to calling the hook an "addiction" if it's not just all in the mind. If there is a physiological hook, a chemical dependency. The DSM-IV avoids the "addict" word, but goes some way towards making "dependence" a repeatable test.

chemical dependency is not as well-defined a term as addiction. Apparently the preferred terms in medicine are physical dependence and psychological addiction.

The criteria for physical dependence is the appearance of withdrawal symptoms. This is not actually very hard to meet - I've had strong craving and withdrawal symptoms when suddenly stopping heavy coffee drinking. Some drugs - e.g. laxatives - can have dependence without any psychoactive effects at all. The "no normal need" test is also an interesting addition. We don't consider air or water to be addictive, yet ceasing consumption of them causes drastic effects. They are "normal needs". Tobacco only becomes a need after you start using it.

Psychological addiction is harder to define. But revolves around when the rewarding behaviour (not necessarily a chemical here) fills a need that is not otherwise met, and becomes a compulsion. The medics like to say that substances differ in the strength of the physical dependence that they produce, but all are equally addictive. People may differ in their tendency to psychological addiction. Me, I don't know about the "equally addictive" part; I think I'd find a crystal meth habit harder to give up than cheesecake.

For counterexample, when opiates are prescribed for pain management, all the physical effects - tolerance, craving and withdrawal - are present, but there is not usually a dependence by the DSM-IV definition, or a compulsion to use the drug, hence no addiction.

Chemical dependence is perhaps a strong craving that is not purely psychological, is for a substance, and meets the criteria for dependence.

Sources: Wikipedia on "addiction"
John Barth: The Sot-weed factor

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