The Difference between Addiction & Tolerance

From: Helen Dynda (
Fri Mar 30 15:45:39 2001

[] The Difference between Addiction & Tolerance: Patient and Family ( Kim Sieck RN...Edited by Susan Sievers RN )

Are you concerned that you or someone you care about is addicted to pain medications? It is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed if you have any question that this may be occurring. If you or someone you care about is in pain, this concern may stop you from getting the needed relief from pain.

To understand addiction, it is important to know not only the definitions of addiction but also the definition of tolerance, because there is a difference. This paper will define each one to try to help you to understand the difference.


Addiction: Addiction occurs when the person is controlled by getting and using the medication for the feeling they get in their head from the medication, not for the pain relief. The person tries to get and use this medication all the time, even when they do not need it. Addiction treatment focuses on the addiction process: helping clients recognize the addiction as a chronic disease and assisting them to make lifestyle changes to halt the progression of that disease process.

Tolerance: Tolerance happens when the person becomes use to the drug and it no longer gives the same relief it did when the person started to use it. This can happen with most pain medications, the pain does not go away as it did before and the person needs more medicine to have pain relief.

What does this mean?

Let's use an example: Imagine you have a serious leg injury that causes you a lot of pain. The pain in your leg is only relieved by certain pain medications. It is important that you have the medications to stop this pain so you can go and do the things you enjoy and need to do in your daily life. But after awhile, the medicine does not work anymore. You may be afraid to tell your doctor or nurse because you are afraid you are 'addicted ' to the medicine. You may have increased your medication on your own but are afraid to tell anyone because of the fear of addiction. But the medical research has proven that addiction is very rare in people who are in pain and need to take medications for relief of pain. It is important to let your nurse or doctor know if you need or take more medication to stop your pain. There may be something better for you to take for the pain. The best thing to do is to talk to your nurse or doctor and ask questions. You have the right to have relief from your pain.

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