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Drug Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

a man sits on the floor of his apartment thinking about drug tolerance dependence and addiction

People often use the words “addiction,” “tolerance,” and “physical dependence” interchangeably, but these terms are distinct from one another for a reason. Concerned parents, spouses, and children may wonder whether their loved one has a high tolerance or is already addicted to drugs. When a person’s drug use results in behavioral changes that are unsettling or troublesome, the people around tend to have many questions about the nature of addiction, tolerance, and dependence. Understanding these different terms can be helpful when you seek proper treatment and support for someone struggling with a substance use disorder.

Those trying to break free from addiction often worry about withdrawal symptoms and cravings during detox. Thankfully, there are medication-assisted treatment programs that can help ease these symptoms. At Evoke Waltham, we offer comprehensive drug rehab programs in a comfortable, luxurious treatment center, including medication-assisted treatment.

We have state-of-the-art facilities to support the latest evidence-based, research-backed treatments and therapies. Our extensive team of addiction specialists and mental health experts are passionate about providing the care and support necessary for recovery. You can contact us today by calling 866.276.1920.

What Is the Difference Between Drug Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

Drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction are terms often used interchangeably when discussing drug use and abuse. While the terms are related, they each have distinct meanings and implications.


Tolerance is a physiological change that occurs within an individual’s body when they take a drug regularly. Over time, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and requires more of it to produce the same result or effect. This can happen with therapeutic and illicit drugs, though it is typically more familiar with illegal drugs due to the more significant potential for misuse. Tolerance does not necessarily indicate an addiction. It is simply a sign that a person’s body has adapted to the presence of the drug in its system.


Dependence occurs when someone needs a particular substance to function normally or feel good. Dependency can be physical or psychological and can range from mild to severe. It can develop gradually over time as tolerance increases, but it can also occur suddenly after taking large doses of certain drugs. Psychological dependence may manifest itself through cravings for more of a particular drug, even after the initial effects have worn off. Physical dependence may manifest itself through withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Insomnia


Addiction is defined as compulsive behavior despite negative consequences resulting from using a particular substance. It involves physical and psychological components and usually consists of tolerance and dependence on a given substance. People who struggle with addiction will experience cravings for more of the substance even if they know using it will negatively affect their health or life. They may also develop negative behaviors such as lying about their drug use to get more access to the drug. A person may also experience physical withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using a particular drug after becoming dependent.

Addiction vs. Tolerance vs. Dependence

While the line between tolerance, dependence, and addiction may seem blurry, there is a distinction between them. A person who is tolerant of or dependent on a drug may not necessarily be addicted. Many people depend on prescription drugs to treat specific conditions, such as chronic pain. Tolerance and dependence are often precursors to addiction. When a person is addicted to a drug, they may use the medication longer than prescribed or use higher dosages to feel euphoric effects. Addiction is also likely to persist unless addressed through therapeutic interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Get on the Path to Recovery at Evoke Waltham

A better understanding of drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction can help you or someone you know to make informed decisions about substance use. If you think you or someone you know is struggling with any drug-related issues, the best course of action is to seek professional help immediately for proper assessment and treatment recommendations. At Evoke Waltham, we can guide you about your treatment options. Our treatment programs incorporate the most effective forms of behavioral therapy and in-depth counseling to meet each patient’s needs. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 866.276.1920 so that we can set you on the path to recovery.