Narrator: This is Science Today. Medications, such as opioids or Valium-type drugs, alter your body's physiological response, so everyone becomes physically dependant on them. But Pamela Pierce Palmer, director of the University of California , San Francisco Pain Management Center , explains there's a difference between getting physically dependent on these medications and becoming addicted.
Palmer: All the drugs you become physically dependent on, it just means that you have to slowly taper off them. So, an asthmatic can't just stop a steroid, they'll have a crisis situation. A pain patient just can't stop an opiate – they'd have massive withdrawal. They can, in both situations though, slowly taper off the medication.
Narrator: On the other hand, Palmer says an addict is escalating their use of the drug to treat a psychological problem.
Palmer: They're psychologically dependent on the medication and they will put themselves in harm's way in order to continue using the medication, even though it's not helping them physiologically. And so there's a whole different problem with the addicts versus the physically dependent patients.
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.