I need an adjective which means roughly 'of a tendency to cause physical dependence' that can be applied to drugs. 'Addictive' or the like won't work because it doesn't distinguish between physical and psychological dependence. I need an adjective that relates specifically to the quality of a chemical substance to produce physical dependence.

I checked thesaurus.com, which cites Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus third edition. It did not offer many choices. The only alternatives it were had obsessive, enslaving or hooking and habit-forming, but these do not specifically relate to physical dependence.

Update: I have gotten some fantastic answers, and I appreciate the assistance, but they are not quite what I see. I need an adjective, rather than a noun or any other type of semantic unit. While I prefer the adjective to be a single word, it does not have to be, but I require an adjective for this context. The two of the prior responses have each been nouns or noun phrases.

The intended context is something along the lines of the following:

Drugs such as heroin are … , meaning that they demonstrate a high potential for physical dependence.


4 Answers 4


"Physically addictive" refers to substances that result in both addictive behavior and physical dependence. If that's the category you're looking for, it should work fine.

If the category you're looking for is all substances that create physical dependence, regardless of whether they create addictive behavior, I'm not aware of a concise phrase for it. You'll probably have to talk around it with a phrase like "physical dependence potential". If you find you'll be using it a lot, you could abbreviate it to PDP.

  • 1
    Thank you for the response. This is about the extent of the conversation so far. It seems that we've all converged on the conclusion that there is no word or phrase which says precisely what is necessary here and some circumlocution is the only recourse.
    – Sam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:46

This can be described as the dependence potential of a substance, which can be used to distinguish between physical and psychological dependence.

For example:

Testing Drugs for Physical Dependence Potential and Abuse Liability, NIDA Research 1984

  • "Physical dependence potential" is a noun phrase, though. The word or phrase for which I'm looking, on the other hand, can be applied uniformly to nouns, specifically chemical substances. If I was intending to use your suggested phrase, I would need to formulate the sentence in the following respect: "Drugs of high physical dependence potential..." See? I had to add "of" to the noun phrase to make it an adjectival phrase. I'd like a word or phrase which can be used like this: "x drugs are drugs of a high physical dependence potential..." with x being the target word or phrase.
    – Sam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:31
  • Perhaps some of the concepts and definitions laid out in the link I provided might help? Starting from page 3 the authors outline the problem you've faced using "addictive" and the terminology they decided upon.
    – A Gibb
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:37
  • Or would "physically addictive drugs" suit your needs?
    – A Gibb
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:39
  • "Physically addictive" or even "physically-addictive" was my planned fall-back, though I was hoping there was a more chemically, biologically, or medically common phrase for this one. It seems now that there is probably no such word or phrase in common enough usage to be better than the alternative.
    – Sam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:41

Drugs that cause physical dependence are said to be "drugs of abuse". Such drugs frequently lead to addiction and, more often than not, physical dependence.

"Addictive" is a commonly used adjective, as in "the five most addictive drugs are cocaine, heroin, alcohol, nicotine, and methamphetamine" 5 Most Addictive Drugs

Although it is possible to become physically dependent on a substance without being addicted, addiction is the usual pathway to dependence. Therefore, the most addictive drugs are usually the ones that result in physical dependence.

  • An addictive drug is one that you cannot stop taking once you have started: tobacco is highly addictive.

When people use the term “dependence,” they are usually referring to a physical dependence on a substance. Dependence is characterized by the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal.

Addiction is marked by a change in behavior caused by the biochemical changes in the brain after continued substance abuse. Substance use becomes the main priority of the addict, regardless of the harm they may cause to themselves or others. An addiction causes people to act irrationally when they don’t have the substance they are addicted to in their system. Addiction Center

Addiction encompasses both a mental and physical reliance on a given substance.

  • Thank you for taking the time to respond, but as I said in the post, "Addictive" is not the word for which I'm looking. Take, for example, drugs like THC and Nicotine. There is no evidence for a discontinuation syndrome or any other forms of physical addiction in THC, yet ~11% of users are addicts. Likewise, Nicotine is also addictive, but it has a tendency to produce physical addiction, including a discontinuation syndrome. I'm looking for a word which describes that nature of a substance which is likely to cause physical dependency, not addiction, which can be physiological or psychological.
    – Sam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 15:25
  • @Sam There does not seem to be a one word answer to this request. As has been pointed out by you, and others here, what you are saying again and again is, "chemical dependency" since you are citing drugs and substances, not psychological addictive properties. Dec 12, 2018 at 16:05
  • @NormanEdward Yes, indeed that is the conclusion that the commenters and I seem to have converged on. There is no common-enough word or phrase to be more alternative than the circumlocutions I was trying to avoid. It's no matter. The problem is solved.
    – Sam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 16:07
  • " Addictive" is not the word for which I'm looking" You have edited and now I am aware of it.
    – Centaurus
    Dec 12, 2018 at 22:47

I can give you an adverb.

Drugs such as heroin are physiologically habituating, meaning that they demonstrate a high potential for physical dependence.

physiological is an adjective,

Relating to the branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts.

"physiological research on the causes of violent behaviour"

1.1 Relating to the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions. "slow down your body's physiological response to anger by breathing deeply"

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