The Difference Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

Many people would be surprised to know that physical dependency does not equal addiction. While yes, many times an individual who is physically dependent on a substance will suffer from the illness known as addiction, this is not always the case. For instance, a person who goes in for a particular surgery that results in their taking painkillers for an extended period of time will experience physical dependency but this does not mean that they are also an addict.

In order to understand the difference, you first have to understand what addiction is, and what addiction is not. In regards to substance abuse treatment and the subsequent recovery from addiction, addiction refers broadly to the mental obsession and physical compulsion to use substances. This obsession is present regardless of whether or not there are currently substances in the person’s body and it is an illness that is recognized by the medical and psychological communities and is defined in the DSM-5, which is the complete listing of all recognized mental health disorders.

Addiction is an illness that can only be self-diagnosed, making it unique, whereas physical dependency is something that can be diagnosed by a doctor or by other health care professional. In order for an individual to overcome physical dependency they must simply stop using the substances and allow their mind and body to clear up, but an individual who suffers from addiction will find this almost impossible, and simply stopping the substances will often times not be enough.

So let’s take a look at the difference between physical addiction and psychological addiction. If you think that you may be suffering from both, then it is best to read on and seek professional help. Addiction is a tremendously powerful illness that claims the lives of thousands of individuals every year. Knowing that you have a problem is the first step in solving it, so hopefully, this information will help guide you through this confusing and trying time.

Physical Addiction

Simply defined, physical addiction occurs when a person repeatedly introduces a drug into their body, and eventually, the body becomes dependent on that chemical or group of chemicals in order to function. Our bodies are designed to compensate for these outside chemicals by creating its’ own chemical reactions in order to counter their effects. Eventually, the body will no longer react to the substance as it did when it was first introduced. This phenomenon is known as tolerance. As a result, people need to take more of a given substance in order to achieve the same feelings they had experienced when they first took the drug.

In regards to physical addiction to a substance, there are several factors that come into play in regards to the speed and degree to which people can experience physical addiction:

  •   The type of substance being abused
  •   The frequency of substance use
  •   The route of administration
  •   Family history and an individual’s home environment

Over time, drugs and alcohol significantly impact essential bodily functions, and major organs such as the liver, pancreas, and heart can become damaged to the point where they won’t be able to heal even if a person receives professional help.

man's hand next to heroin

Psychological Addiction

Psychological addiction refers to an individual’s mental or emotional attachment to a substance or behavior linked to the use of substances. With this psychological component, people feel a strong compulsion to use drugs or alcohol and if they are not able to obtain these substances they will experience a wide range of emotions that can be volatile. In regards to the psychological effects of addiction, people who attempt to quit using drugs and alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms as the body tries to compensate for the lack of chemicals in their system.

Much like the development of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms are dependent on the drug that is being abused as well as the amount being used, the frequency of use, and the presence of any underlying medical conditions. The most common withdrawal symptoms seen with drug and alcohol addiction include:

  •   Cravings
  •   Irritability and agitation
  •   Anxiety, depression, or other mental issues
  •   Headaches
  •   Poor concentration
  •   Isolating behaviors

Drugs and alcohol have a significant impact on certain brain structures such as the limbic system. The limbic system is the brain region that controls and regulates our ability to feel pleasure and is our reward center.

How Does Physical and Psychological Addiction Work Together?

While both physical and psychological addiction have characteristics that set them apart from each other, they have a symbiotic relationship and together create a vicious cycle of addiction that many who use substances have great difficulty breaking. When people first start using drugs and alcohol, the feelings of euphoria they experienced are tied to the settings and situation in which they are in, and they reinforce future use.

As the body becomes more accustomed to the substances, people must take larger quantities of a substance in order to achieve the same effect, and the substance starts having greater impacts on brain functioning and chemistry. When users try to stop using the drugs, the body can react violently to this change and will experience withdrawal symptoms.

When they make the decision to enter drug treatment, they will undergo medical detoxification to minimize the potential dangers of withdrawal and to address the physical aspects of addiction. Once they are stable and substance free, they will enter the high structure environment of drug treatment to address the psychological aspects of their addiction. In treatment, they will undergo an individualized treatment program made up of therapy, life and coping skills training and relapse prevention education.

Seeking Treatment For Alcoholism or Addiction

If you find that you cannot stop using drugs or alcohol even though you would like to, then you may be suffering from an addiction. Addiction is an actual, recognizable disease and as such, you’re inability to stop on your own should not be a cause for shame or guilt. There are millions of people every year who need to seek help for addiction and alcoholism, and many have made it through their struggles to a life of recovery. So if you think you need help, then call the professionals at Dream Center for Recovery today at 1-877-978-3148. Our trained staff is standing by to take your call, to help you in any way they can.