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Tolerance/Physical Dependence vs Addiction

We hear this statement a lot; I don’t want to get addicted from my pain medications? So let’s clarify:

Addiction is a change in a person’s behavior caused by a biochemical change in the brain caused by continued substance abuse; the compulsive use of a drug/medication despite its consequences; good, bad or indifferent. People who abuse prescription medications; meaning taking their medications other than prescribed do increase their risk of becoming addicted and with continued abuse and misuse can experience other serious adverse side effects. The initial decision to take or use prescription medications for most people is voluntary, however continued medication use can lead to biochemical changes in the brain that renders a person incapable of stopping the medication.

Tolerance and physical dependence on the other hand is when then the body adapts to a medication; meaning medications at your current dose may not work as effectively as they did previously. When this occurs, patients can experience decreased effectiveness of the medication and over time a person may require more medication to obtain relief and can experience withdrawal symptoms if the medication is abruptly stopped.

Tolerance and physical dependence is not addiction. Addiction is a very serious condition.

The take away here; take your medications as prescribed and if your body is physically dependent on a medication; do NOT stop it abruptly. Be sure to obtain weaning instruction from your provider to safely wean down and off the medication to avoid withdrawal symptoms.




Reference List:

NIDA. 2020, June 19. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from on 2020, June 24

NIDA. 2020, May 29. Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?. Retrieved from on 2020, June 24

Terrie Pasch, PA-C Terrie’s career began over twenty-five years ago when she became a certified emergency paramedic. She has been working in pain management since November of 2011. Her passionate desire to practice medicine, pursue lifelong learning, and provide superior healthcare to patients is what led her to pursue the career that she chose. Her patients know her for her great bedside manner, strong people skills and great communication with them. Terrie received her bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University in biology and went on to Midwestern University to get her masters in medical science in Physician Assistant studies. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and camping and spending time with her husband, three children and four grandchildren. She and her daughter enjoy baking their famous sugar cookies together. Terrie is currently seeing patients at our Sun City and Sun City West locations.

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