Someone who is dependent on a drug will experience withdrawal if they decrease or stop their usage. Considering the drug the person is using and how long they’ve been taking it, the withdrawal symptoms can be a minor annoyance or a life-threatening health issue.
Dependence is not the same thing as addiction or tolerance. An individual who is dependent on a drug will not necessarily crave more of it or need increasing doses for the same effects. They may simply take the drug to avoid withdrawal or a recurrence of symptoms. If the drug is a prescribed medication like an antidepressant, a person may continue usage indefinitely with minimal side effects.
Dependence on a substance is not a measure of a person’s willpower or character. Furthermore, people can become dependent on legal substances. For example, caffeine from coffee and soft drinks can cause dependence. Research shows individuals who consume as little as 100mg of caffeine a day can experience withdrawal when they abstain from caffeine (for reference, a standard cup of coffee has 95mg of caffeine). An individual who is dependent on caffeine may consume coffee not out of desire for its taste, but solely to avoid the headaches, fatigue, or difficulty concentrating that come with withdrawal.
Dependence refers to physiological reliance on a drug or substance for continued functioning. Dependence is not the same thing as addiction or tolerance, nor is it a measure of a person’s willpower or character. Being specific about the degree of reliance and avoiding language that may blame or stigmatize an individual for dependence on a substance helps ensure accurate coverage.