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    Addiction Treatment, Addictions, Mental Health

    Understanding the Distinction between Physical and Psychological Addiction

    Published on July 12, 2023

    People grappling with substance dependency often confront both physical and psychological symptoms. However, developing physical reliance on a substance is feasible without experiencing psychological addiction and vice versa. 

    Due to the intricate nature of dependency, many individuals find it challenging to understand and differentiate between physical and psychological dependence fully.

    Let’s delve deeper into the contrasts between physical and psychological dependence.

    Defining Physical Addiction

    Physical dependency indicates the chemical alterations in the body caused by substance consumption. Physical dependency develops when exposure to drugs or alcohol causes changes in the body’s cells, rendering them incapable of functioning optimally without continued exposure to the substance.

    Decreased cellular functionality leads to physical withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing drug or alcohol use. Consequently, people suffering from dependency may relapse or return to substance use to alleviate these distressing withdrawal symptoms. Clients may receive prescription medications at a dependency clinic to ease the otherwise arduous withdrawal process.

    Painful physical withdrawal symptoms include stomach problems, sleeping disturbances, tremors, extreme cravings and muscle pain.

    The most common substances that can result in physical addiction include:

    • Opiates like methadone and heroin
    • Stimulants like cocaine
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Alcohol
    • Barbiturates
    • Nicotine

    What Is Psychological Addiction

    In contrast to physical addiction, psychological addiction does not bring forth physical withdrawal symptoms when drug use is discontinued. Instead, individuals experience a “compulsion” or a perceived necessity to use the drug or engage in specific behaviours.

    Psychological withdrawal symptoms may include cravings, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, depression and feeling unfulfilled.

    Psychological addiction entails an alteration of the person’s belief system. For instance, someone who uses cocaine might believe they cannot enjoy a Saturday night out without using cocaine. However, if they cannot obtain cocaine, they will not experience the aforementioned physical withdrawal symptoms.

    This does not imply that psychological addiction is less severe than physical addiction. 

    Numerous psychological addictions contribute to significant physical, social and mental health issues. Individuals become wholly consumed by their addiction, to the detriment of their well-being, career, and interpersonal relationships.

    Similarities between Physical and Psychological Addiction

    One key shared aspect between the two types of addiction concerns their impact on the brain. Both types, known as dopamine, tend to affect the brain’s reward system. Over time, the body develops a tolerance to dopamine. This means that a more significant amount of the substance is necessary to achieve a sense of normalcy.

    There are similarities between psychological and physical addiction. Physical addiction requires supervised detoxification, whereas psychological addiction does not.

    After detoxification, the underlying mental causes of physical addiction are treated like psychological addiction, encompassing cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, holistic therapies, education, nutritional support, and relapse prevention strategies.

    Are You Ready to Take the Next Step?

    If you’re experiencing physical or psychological dependency, our Dependency Program can help you.

    We all deserve to experience life fully without dependency, and finding the proper support is the first step.

    White River Manor’s team of highly qualified professionals understands the challenges of people tackling addiction – no matter what it may be. Our recovery programs are tailored to every individual and their unique circumstances.

    We treat various addictions and mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, dual diagnosis, and substance abuse.

    Contact our team now if you’re ready to take the next step and find support. 

    About Giles Fourie

    Giles Fourie is the director and co-founder of White River Manor. He is dedicated to providing the best care for clients seeking recovery from substance abuse, anxiety, depression, or co-occurring disorders.