What is Chemical Dependency?

Chemical dependency (what most people think of when they hear the word “addiction”) is officially known as Substance Use Disorder. More common names for chemical dependency are alcoholism and drug addiction. Basically, a user of alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or even cigarettes and over-the-counter medications gets hooked and struggles to make it through the day without ingesting his or her drug of choice (or some other drug).

The American Psychiatric Association lists eleven criteria for diagnosing Substance Use Disorder, any two of which are enough for a diagnosis. Those criteria are as follows:

  1. Taking a substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using a substance but not managing to.
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance.
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.

Therapists who treat substance addictions generally simplify the eleven criteria above to the following three:

  1. Preoccupation to the point of obsession with an addictive substance
  2. Loss of control over use of the substance, typically evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back
  3. Directly related negative consequences – relationship trouble, issues at work or in school, declining physical health, depression, anxiety, diminished self-esteem, isolation, financial woes, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, legal trouble, etc.

This shortened list of criteria works and works well regardless of the substance: alcohol, opiates, meth, cocaine, nicotine, prescription meds, over-the-counter meds, etc.

Interestingly, chemical dependency is not about having a good time. It may have started out that way, but over time chemically dependent individuals drink and use just to make it through the day. Basically, addictive substances are used to avoid feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness, boredom, and other emotional discomforts. So addicts don’t use to feel good, they use to feel less. Drinking and using are, for substance addicts, not about getting drunk or high; they’re about losing touch with reality.

If the above description sounds like you or someone you love, there may be an issue with chemical dependency. If so, Seeking Integrity offers unique programs that can help. To learn more, visit our Treatment Programs page, contact us via email, or call us at 747.234.4325.