Being dependent on drugs is not very different to being dependent on many other everyday activities such as the television, work or your car. Dependence exists on a continuum, and a useful way to think about the process of dependence is to relate it to your own relationships.


The word dependence means different things to different people.

Most of us will admit that we are dependent on our cars, computers, money, partners or friends.

One definition of dependence is: 'A state of relying on or being sustained by something'.

When it comes to drug dependence, however, society tends to view it as something quite different from these everyday behaviours. Despite this, a number of authors have argued strongly for it to be considered in the same light.

Dependence is a relatively normal human experience. Most of us are dependent to a greater or lesser extent on something.

Understanding the normality of dependence is important in terms of developing relationships with young people with AOD issues, as well as being able to dispel some of the myths surrounding dependence with your client group, parents and the wider population.

In the absence of the thing that we are very dependent on we often experience negative feelings and become quite uncomfortable. We think about the thing/object/person a lot, and we often orient our behaviour towards getting it back.

Experiencing negative feelings in the absence of drugs is considered one of the hallmark features of drug dependence.

This understanding is important in terms of developing an empathic relationship with a young person, and also for helping parents and other key stakeholders understand what it is like to be strongly attached to, or dependent on a substance.

Assessing your own dependence

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Task - writing exercise

Write down a list of five things or people you depend on. Remember to include things like technology (e.g. T.V., radio, mobile phone) and food/favourite items/pets.

Using a scale of 1-5, rate each item according to how much you think you depend on it. If you think you depend on something a lot, or feel that it is a big part of your life it should be rated at 5.

Question - Think about how you would react if this item or person were unavailable to you. How would you feel? How would you cope? Take the time to write down some of your thoughts.