“I’m sooooo addicted to coffee”. I’m guessing you have heard this phrase before. You may have even said this phrase before. What if I told you that it is not true.

Yes, you may get a headache. No, you may not be able to wake up without a cup. Maybe, you pictured pushing your loving husband out of a moving car because the Dunkin’s drive through line was too long… What? Just me?

Yes… you do have an uncomfortable reaction when you do not have your coffee. The Headache, sleepiness, and not being able to focus are all part of caffeine withdrawal. You may be surprised to know that this is actually listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-V as a mental health disorder.

Withdrawal by definition is the result of DEPENDANCE. Not ADDICTION.

Dependance, to put it simply, is when your body feels like it needs something in order to maintain its baseline. This happens in more toxic cases such as nicotine, alcohol and opiates, but our bodies are also dependent on water, air, food and a whole host of other things.

Now, what makes Addiction different?

Addiction is the effect that something has on your life and your behaviors. A person who is addicted to something may neglect their lives (friends, family, work) in pursuit of what they are addicted to. They also more than likely have had some kind of consequence in life, but continued to use. Think: Overdose, car accident, wife leaving, loss of job, prison time. Addiction is a compultion and the behavior. Dependence is the body’s physical reaction.

Why do we care?

Have you ever heard someone say, “poor baby, born addicted to crack”. It is not possible for a baby to be addicted to anything. The baby may be born dependent on a substance, but never addicted.

What about someone on Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT? MAT are medications such as Vivitrol, Suboxone, Methadone, and others. These are medications carefully prescribed by a specialized doctor for people experiencing withdraw from opiates and/or alcohol (in the case of Vivtrol).

Knowing what you now know, can we say someone is addicted to methadone? Street methadone?Maybe, if someone was using illegally to get high and continued this behavior despite legal trouble, overdose, or other concerns. Prescribed methadone from a clinic? No. Can we say they are dependent on methadone? Yes.

Again, why does this matter?

When someone says the word “addiction” it has a very negative feel to it. It is a judgement call and it increases stigma. The baby born dependent on cocaine has done nothing wrong and does not deserve that judgement.

Neither does the person who is trying everything to get their life back together. When a person living with addiction walks into a clinic or doctor’s office for the first time they are carrying with them more shame than the average person can imagine. They carry the stigma from society, family and themselves.

Lets help lighten their load and reduce that stigma.


Published by psychkatlife

Katherine Carter is a licensed mental health counselor practicing in Massachusetts. Katherine is the former Director of a residential program for women working towards recovery from drugs and alcohol. Katherine is currently working in private practice assisting individuals, couples and families meet their goals. Katherine's clinical interests include Addiction, Empowerment, LGBTQ and gender issues, mindfulness and chronic illness.

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