Chemical Dependency

Chemical dependency refers to the bodies dependence or addiction to substances, such as drugs. This article discusses the types of chemical dependency, methamphetamine dependence, issues concurrent with meth use, and drug treatment for meth addiction.


Chemical dependency, another term for substance addiction or substance dependence, covers a group of the substance-related disorders listed in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV). This article provides an overview of chemical dependency.

Types of Chemical Dependency

The DSM-IV lists twelve types of chemical dependency:

  • Alcohol dependence
  • Amphetamine (or amphetamine-like) dependence
  • Cannabis dependence (marijuana)
  • Cocaine dependence
  • Hallucinogen dependence
  • Inhalant dependence
  • Nicotine dependence
  • Opioid dependence
  • Phycyclidine (or phencyclidine-like) dependence
  • Sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic dependence
  • Polysubstance dependence
  • Other (or unknown) substance dependence

Each of these substances (or multiple substances) can be abused without the abuser being dependent on it. In the case of chemical dependency, the substance named is used compulsively and repetitively, despite causing or leading to a significant amount of impairment or distress, and showing at least three of these symptoms in the period of a year:

  • tolerance (i.e., needing increasing amounts of the substance to produce the desired effects)
  • withdrawal (i.e., symptoms of withdrawal or using the substance to prevent withdrawl symptoms)
  • loss of control over the use of the substance with regard to amount or duration of use
  • ineffectual efforts to cut back on or give up use of the substance
  • significant time is spent in efforts to procure, use, or recover from the use of the substance
  • the substance use causes significant interference with either social, work, or recreation activities
  • use of the substance continues despite factual knowledge of the substance causing or exacerbating physical or psychological problems

Chemical dependency may be termed physiological if tolerance or withdrawal are involved or without physiological dependence if they are not involved (some substances may not cause withdrawal symptoms or create tolerance).

Methamphetamine Dependence

Methamphetamine dependence would fall under the category of amphetamine (or amphetamine-like) dependence. Amphetamines are the most commonly used illegal drugs following cannabis. Methamphetamine dependence includes dependence on speed, base, and crystal meth. Methamphetamine dependence may also occur in combination with dependence on another substance or substances. Polydrug use is very common among users of methamphetamines, and common accompanying drugs include alcohol, cannabis, and ecstasy.

Methamphetamine dependence may occur to a greater or lesser degree and be more or less severe. The degree and severity are influenced by three factors, first, the type and potency of the methamphetamine, with crystal meth generally causing dependence sooner than base or powder forms. Second, injection may lead to greater dependence than snorting or ingesting. Third, people who use the drug several times a week are more likely suffer from checmical dependency.

Concomitant Issues of Meth Dependence

With meth dependence come other conditions. First there are the physical and psychological effects of meth itself, including symptoms ranging from changes in temperature, blood pressure, and appetite, in the physical realm and improved productivity, aggressiveness, and delusions in the psychological realm. But second, with chemical dependence come some issues over the longer term, such as poor nutrition and sleep, consequent susceptibility to illness, and mental health issues.

Treatment for Meth Dependence

Because of the likelihood of concomitant (accompanying) issues, a comprehensive assessment is a key early step in treatment for meth dependence. An early aspect of treatment will likely include withdrawal, something that - unlike the situation with certain other drugs - many chemically dependent users have likely undergone frequently between uses. Several methamphetamine-induced mood disorders may occur after withdrawal, and these need to be watched for.

One challenge to treatment is that many users want to reduce their use, but not cease using methamphetamines. Another is that there is not a standard, successful pharmacotherapy treatment for methamphetamine withdrawal and dependence. What has been found to be effective is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Research on other approaches to combating chemical dependency continues.

Methamphetamine Dependence and Treatment
Clinical Treatment Guidelines for Alcohol and Drug Clinicians  © 2007

Related Article: Amphetamine Addiction >>