Understanding Chemical Dependency

May 2024 Understanding Chemical Dependency

Chemical dependency and addiction are often used interchangeably. However, even though these terms share many similarities, there are also some important distinctions between them.

What Does Chemical Dependency Mean?

Chemical dependency refers to the physical and psychological reliance that some people develop on some substances after using them for a certain period of time. 

People can become chemically dependent on both legal medications (such as prescription painkillers, anti-anxiety meds, and antidepressants) and illicit drugs (such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine). 

Chemical Dependency vs. Addiction

As we noted at the outset of today’s post, chemical dependency and addiction are similar, but they are not the same. 

Chemical dependency means that your body and/or mind have begun to adapt to the presence of the drug that they you have been taking. 

This biological and psychological response can include tolerance (needing to use more of the drug to experience the same effects) and withdrawal (physical and/or mental distress when you abruptly end your use of the drug).

Addiction refers to the behavioral compulsions that can result from chemical dependency. 

If you become addicted to alcohol or another drug, you may start to use the substance in especially hazardous ways, devote considerable amounts of time to acquiring and using the drug, withdraw from important activities so you can use the drug, or continue to use it even after incurring noticeable harm as a result of prior use.

How to Know if You Have a Chemical Dependency 

The best way to determine if you have become dependent on alcohol or another addictive substance is to schedule a chemical dependency evaluation. 

Being assessed by a qualified healthcare provider or addiction expert can help you understand exactly what type of challenge you are dealing with. The professional who conducts your chemical dependency evaluation should also be able to recommend appropriate treatment options for you.

Chemical Dependency Quiz

If you’re not sure about scheduling a chemical dependency evaluation, ask yourself the following questions in our quiz:

  • Do you regularly have powerful cravings for the substance you’ve been using?
  • Do you often become angry, agitated, or irritated when you are prevented from acquiring or using the substance?
  • Have you noticed that the substance doesn’t have the same effect that it used to, which means that you have to take larger doses or use it more frequently?
  • Once you start using the drug, do you find it difficult or virtually impossible to stop?
  • When you don’t use the substance for a certain period of time, do you develop headaches, nausea, anxiety, depression, or other physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you sometimes use the substance not for its pleasurable effects, but simply to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you want to stop using the substance, but you’ve found that you’re not able to do so?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to schedule an assessment. 

Also, if you’re concerned that you might be forced into treatment, remember that an assessment is a no-strings-attached service. Depending on the outcome of your assessment, the expert who evaluated you may recommend that you enter a program or receive certain types of care – but you will be under no obligation to do so. 

A chemical dependency assessment will simply provide you with an accurate picture of your current health as well as the risks that you may be taking by continuing to use a particular substance. Working together, you and your healthcare provider can decide which next steps are best for you.

Treatment for Chemical Dependencies

Effective treatment for chemical dependency can look very different from one person to the next. Factors that can influence what type of care is best for you include:

  • Your age and gender
  • If you need help getting through withdrawal
  • Which substance you have become dependent on
  • How long you have been using the substance, and how much you typically use
  • How your life has been affected by your substance use
  • If you have been in treatment before
  • If you have any co-occurring mental health concerns

Chemical Dependency Programs

Depending on these and other relevant factors, your ideal path to recovery may include one or more of the following programs:

  • Detoxification
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Residential rehab
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Aftercare support

Within these programs, you may benefit from both medication and therapy. 

Certain medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, can ease drug cravings and alleviate some other withdrawal symptoms, which can help you end your drug use with minimal distress. Some people use these medications for a relatively brief period, while others continue to take them for months or even years. 

As is the case with virtually all other elements of treatment for chemical dependency, there is no “right” way to use these medications – it’s simply a matter of working with your treatment team to find what’s right for you.

Various forms of therapy can help you manage your urges and develop the skills you will need to live a healthier life in recovery. Examples of therapies that are often incorporated into chemical dependency treatment include:

  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Group and family therapy sessions
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Neurofeedback therapy
  • Reality therapy
  • Equine-assisted therapy

If your struggles with chemical dependency are associated with a history of untreated trauma, services such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can also be extremely beneficial.

As you near the end of your time in treatment, you should also receive a detailed discharge plan. This plan may include referrals to follow-on care, information about community-based resources, and other details that can help you make a healthy transition out of treatment and continue to progress in your recovery. 

Contact Phoenix Rising About Treatment in Palm Springs, CA

Phoenix Rising Recovery is a trusted source of life-affirming chemical dependency treatment for adults in southern California.

Our rehab center in Palm Springs, California, is a welcoming and supportive place where you can receive a full continuum of customized services. These are provided by a team of highly skilled and deeply compassionate professionals.

At Phoenix Rising, we know how devastating untreated chemical dependency can be. We also understand that no two people are affected in the same way. For these reasons, we are committed to working closely with you to understand the full scope of your unique needs. That way, we can provide you with a truly personalized experience while you are in our care.

To learn more about how we can help you find your path toward a healthier future – or to schedule a free assessment – please visit our Contact page or call us today.