Chemical Dependency

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Chemical dependency is not synonymous with addiction, despite some commonalities, according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Use and Health).

If you are concerned about your patterns of substance use, a chemical dependency evaluation can help highlight whether you are becoming reliant on an addictive substance.

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What is Chemical Dependency?

Chemical dependency is also referred to as physical dependency. The term expresses physical reliance on an addictive substance. 

These are the two most prominent symptoms of chemical dependency: 

  1. Tolerance: The sustained abuse of any addictive substance will lead to tolerance building. When this occurs, you will need more of the substance to deliver the same effects.
  2. Withdrawal: After any sustained abuse of substances, from alcohol and prescription medications to illicit drugs, if you abruptly stop using the substance, you will experience powerful cravings and intense withdrawal symptoms if you are chemically dependent on the substance.

In the same way as addiction, chemical dependence stems from the chronic abuse of addictive substances. Dependence involves physical symptoms in the form of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. While tolerance and withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the substance may accompany addiction, this is not always the case. 

Despite the physical manifestations, chemical dependency first develops in the brain before moving throughout the body. By this phase of abuse, you will need the substance to feel normal. If the substance is no longer present, you will encounter a physical backlash by way of withdrawal symptoms. 

You will also experience physical symptoms as tolerance builds and the substance no longer produces the same effects at the same dosages. Tolerance is the result of habitual and sustained substance use. 

Anyone diagnosed with chemical dependency would likely benefit from a medical detox under close supervision, whether in a medical detox center or an inpatient rehab center. With clinical and emotional care on-demand and around the clock, you can also take advantage of medications to soothe the intensity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms during detox. Medical detox makes the withdrawal process safer and more comfortable, with help on hand in the event of any complications. 

The exact cause of chemical dependency is not fully known, but the following variables can all contribute to the development of dependency: 

  • Genetics: Roughly half of your risk profile for addiction is genetic. Some people seem to be more susceptible than others to developing chemical dependency, too.
  • Drug chemistry: Some substances are more powerfully addictive than others. In the case of cocaine and other stimulants, this is due to the intense and sudden mood changes triggered by the substance. With heroin and other opioids, it is often the fear of painful withdrawal symptoms manifesting that causes people to continue using the substance.
  • Availability: When addictive substances are readily available or fairly inexpensive – alcohol and tobacco, for instance, this leads to increased rates of addiction and chemical dependency.
  • Social factors: From advertising and peer pressure to patterns of substance abuse in the family, many social factors can play a role in someone becoming dependent on addictive substances.
An image of a woman experiencing signs of withdraw due to chemical dependency

According to NIDA’s definition of addiction, the compulsive use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medications is characterized by a drive to continue using the substance in the face of demonstrably negative outcomes. Beyond this, substance use disorder – the clinical descriptor for addiction – interferes with the ability to meet personal and professional obligations. 

The chemical dependency definition always involves physical factors – tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. 

Chemical dependency can develop with the sustained use of legal substances such as alcohol, opioids, and benzos, as well as with illicit drugs. This can even occur when prescription medications are used exactly as directed. 

Chemical dependency, then, does not necessarily constitute addiction, but it can often manifest alongside addiction. 

These are some of the most common signs of chemical dependency: 

  • Loss of willpower and control
  • Tolerance building so you require increased amounts of the substance to achieve the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of the substance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Spending less time on previously favored activities
  • Devoting lots of time to getting, using, and recovering from the effects of the substance.
  • Blackouts
  • The continued use of an addictive substance despite being aware of the psychological, physical, and social problems caused

While these signs may indicate chemical dependency, you require a chemical dependency evaluation for a diagnosis. What does this entail?

When to Take a Chemical Dependency Evaluation

If you feel you are grappling with physical dependence, addiction, or both, you can choose to undergo a chemical dependency assessment. 

These assessments consist of three distinct steps performed by a chemical dependency counselor. The evaluation is intended to determine the extent of chemical dependency and to facilitate chemical dependency counseling. These steps are as follows: 

  • Background information: You will initially complete a form outlining salient background information, including your medical history. This preliminary step allows the addiction counselor to swiftly understand your precise needs.
  • Personal interview: You will next have a face-to-face interview with a counselor or addiction specialist. The counselor can establish the level of physical dependence and determine any relevant risk factors. The counselor will ask a series of questions to illuminate the extent to which addiction is impacting your life. After this interview, the counselor can recommend the most appropriate level of treatment on ASAM’s continuum of care, typically either outpatient or inpatient rehab.
  • Follow-up to chemical dependency assessment: The counselor will mail you a follow-up letter including all details of the chemical dependency assessment and treatment recommendations.
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Chemical Dependency Treatment at California Detox

Regardless of the addictive substance you have been using, we can help you kickstart your recovery here at California Detox

We provide addiction and chemical dependency treatment at all levels of intensity, from outpatient treatment and intensive outpatient programs through to partial hospitalization programs and residential rehab. 

Our treatment programs are designed to help you address the following conditions: 

  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Mental health conditions
  • Co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis)

Engage with evidence-based treatment alongside holistic interventions to fight back against chemical dependency, addiction, or both here at our luxury Laguna Beach rehab center. Reach out to admissions today at 844-427-6002.


Chemical dependency, sometimes referred to as physical dependency, occurs when you require an addictive substance to prevent the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms. Dependence is characterized by the physical symptoms of tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effects) and withdrawal symptoms in its absence.
The most common type of chemical dependency involves alcohol, although many people who drink alcohol excessively do not develop physical dependence.


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