physical dependence | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Drugs

Physical dependence is the body’s adaptation to chronic drug or alcohol use, causing withdrawal symptoms when usage is reduced or stopped.

Understanding Physical Dependence

Physical dependence is a medical term that describes how the body adjusts to chronic drug or alcohol use. Above all, it’s a physical condition. When someone uses certain substances frequently, their body starts to see these substances as normal. Accordingly, when the person reduces or stops using these substances, the body reacts with withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Physical Dependence

The symptoms of physical dependence can range from mild to severe. They may include restlessness, sweating, sleep problems, and in extreme cases, seizures. These symptoms show that the body has become so used to the substance that it has difficulty functioning without it.

Not all substances cause this type of dependence. Alcohol and certain drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines are more likely to cause dependence than other substances. On the other hand, substances like marijuana and hallucinogens typically do not lead to this, although they can still cause psychological dependence.

Physical Dependence and Criminal Justice

Physical dependence plays a critical role in the field of criminal justice. Drug and alcohol addiction often leads to crime, as individuals might break the law to obtain the substances they’re dependent on. After all, if someone is physically dependent on a substance, they might do things they wouldn’t normally do to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Physical Dependence and Rehabilitation

Within the criminal justice system, understanding this dependence can help guide treatment for people with substance use disorders. Detoxification is often the first step. This process involves medical supervision to safely manage withdrawal symptoms as the person stops using the substance.

After detox, the person often enters a treatment program. This may include therapy, medication, and support groups. The goal is not just to stop drug use but also to help the person avoid future drug use and criminal activity.

The Bigger Picture

All in all, physical dependence is a complex issue. While it can lead to crime, it’s also a health problem that requires medical treatment. Understanding this can help us respond more effectively to drug-related crime and help those who are struggling with addiction.

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Last Modified: 07/27/2023

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