Can you become chemically dependent on any substance?


The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines chemical dependency as a physical and psychological habituation to a mood or mind-altering drug, such as alcohol or cocaine.  Addiction, on the other hand, is defined as a habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control.  While the medical definition gives a fairly clear difference between addiction and chemical dependency,  they are often used interchangeably.  In order to maximize understanding of both, the distinction must be made between the two.  Many times, addictions and dependency will co-exist, it is possible though to have one without the other.  For example, a patient who is prescribed painkillers, may build a tolerance to the medication even while they are taking them strictly as prescribed.  The increased tolerance signals a building chemical dependency while the patient may not be facing an addiction at all.  Addictions can, however, exist where there is no chemical dependency at all, this can be seen in the growing cases of porn and sex addiction.  Patients are not chemically dependent to either, yet they do build a psychological dependence that can move beyond their control even in spite of harms to their well being.  Armed with the understanding of how a chemical dependency is truly defined, one can see that by definition it is possible to develop a chemical dependency to a substance even they are not illegal or regularly abused.   The following items, while not typically thought of when talking about addiction and dependence, are substances that can cause a medically defined chemical dependence:


Caffeine is a legal stimulant drug that is found in coffee, tea, and soda.  Because it is a mind-altering substance, it meets the first criteria for a chemical dependency.  People will sometimes mislabel a caffeine dependency as an addiction. While it is technically possible to develop an addiction to caffeine, it is rare to find that a person’s well-being has been harmed, thus not meeting the true definition of an addiction.  Users can, however, build a tolerance to and experience the symptoms that come along with a chemical dependency.


Nicotine is the habit-forming compound found in tobacco.  Nicotine addiction is a legitimate addiction and users can find themselves continuing use even while their well-being suffers, continued use after a diagnosis.  Nicotine users will find themselves becoming chemically dependent fairly quickly, finding a tolerance, especially to the negative side effects, occurring in a matter of days.


The Lakehouse Recovery Center offers 30, 60, and 90 day programs to men and women seeking to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. In addition to providing excellent clinical care, we offer both recovery and non-recovery activities. Our goal is to show clients how to have fun again, learning how to live in recovery without drugs and alcohol. For information, call us today: 877.762.3707


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