Chemical Dependency vs Substance Abuse

What's the difference between chemical dependency and substance abuse?


Although the terms chemical dependency and substance abuse are commonly used interchangeably, they are not the same.


Substance Abuse

According to Johns Hopkins University, substance abuse is a recognized medical brain disorder that refers to the abuse of illegal (such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine) or legal substances (such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs). Alcohol is (by far) the most commonly abused substance. Substance abuse precedes chemical dependency, but is directly related. If a substance user can quit and the substance has completely left their system, they will no longer crave the substance. This person is not suffering from addiction. If the same substance user is noticing that their using is out of control and are still unable to stop they may in fact suffer from addiction.

Need help with substance abuse?
Call 1-888-514-4986

Chemical Dependency

Chemical dependence is a normal reaction to an addictive chemical. The body becomes dependent on the drug/medication/alcohol and it’s effects, and when the substance is stopped, the individual may suffer symptoms of withdrawal while the medication is leaving the system. Chemical dependency versus substance abuse can be further clarified by looking at the body’s need for the substance. An individual that suffers from a substance use disorder will obsess about the drug long after it has detoxed out of their system. An individual that does not suffer from a substance use disorder is able to proceed with their life and never even think about the medication again.

Johns Hopkins University previously described substance, or chemical, dependency as, “the medical term used to describe abuse of drugs or alcohol that continues, even when significant problems related to their use have developed.” Some such problems include withdrawal symptoms if the substance is unavailable, higher tolerance, social or health issues, and the inability to stop using even when you are aware of the negative consequences. The ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol can lead to chemical dependency. This means you are mentally and psychically dependent on the substance. The safest way to conquer chemical dependency is clinical detoxification. Here you can be supervised and monitored by health professionals. There are safe and effective ways to properly rid the body of harmful toxins.

Get help with chemical dependency:
Call 1-888-514-4986


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, up to 20.8 million individuals in the United States need treatment for substance abuse and have not yet received help.