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Physical vs. Psychological Dependence In Addiction

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Substance abuse can quickly lead to dependence, which can make it extremely difficult to stop abusing the substance. Dependence can be both physical and psychological. Although they are both types of dependence, they both have a negative impact on your health and could cause serious issues.

In this article, we will explore the physical vs psychological dependence symptoms involved in addiction.

Physical vs. Psychological Dependence

The terms associated with addiction can get confusing. You seek information about substance use disorder or how to get help, and words like dependence, tolerance, addiction, and substance use disorder appear. You may wonder what the difference is and why it matters. You are not the only one with these questions.

There is a difference, and they are significant parts of a substance use disorder. Deconstructing the most important areas of addiction, like dependence, is a great way to understand the disease more fundamentally. Here is a closer look at the physical vs psychological dependence involved in addiction, including the similarities, differences, how they may affect you, and how to recover from each.

How Addiction Begins

Someone with a substance use disorder does not develop it overnight. They go through a process that starts in the brain. When you drink alcohol or take drugs, the substance enters your bloodstream and travels to the brain. 

When in the brain, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. This neurotransmitter is released at a much higher rate than the brain could produce naturally. It floods the reward center in the brain, making you feel calm, relaxed, and euphoric. You feel a high better than you ever have before.

Your brain loves feeling high. So as the effects wear off, it will encourage you to repeat usage of that substance. The more you use a substance, the more likely it is you will develop a tolerance.

Tolerance is when you must increase the number of substances you consume to achieve the same effects when you first started using them. The higher your tolerance grows, and the longer you ingest a substance, your body gets used to having it in your system. Your body starts thinking you need the substance to function. It becomes dependent on the substance. 

You can develop both physical and psychological dependence.

What is Dependence?

Dependence refers to noticeable symptoms the body experiences when you quit drinking or using substances. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. They are called withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be physical or psychological. However, being physically or psychologically dependent does not necessarily mean you have a substance use disorder.

Physical Dependence Symptoms

Physical body parts that may become dependent on alcohol or drugs can include all organs, the digestive system, and muscles. When you quit drinking or cut back drastically, withdrawal symptoms may appear. Physical dependence symptoms may vary based on the substance misused and can include any or all the following:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • restlessness
  • Congestion
  • Watery eyes
  • Goosebumps
  • Chills
  • Excessive yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, smells, tastes
  • Runny nose
  • shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Severe physical symptoms may require treatment from a doctor or hospital. For some, medical detox is the best answer to avoid these symptoms of withdrawal.

Psychological Dependence Symptoms

A substance use disorder is a brain disease. Alcohol and drugs alter the structure of the brain and cause damage to how it functions. The brain can become dependent on substances. When you stop drinking or taking other substances, withdrawal symptoms may appear.

Psychological dependence symptoms include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Delusions
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Onset of bipolar disorder
  • Nightmares or vivid dreams
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Dysphoria
  • Intense cravings and urges

Both physical and psychological symptoms can be severe and prevent someone from being able to function daily. The symptoms interfere with professional, personal, and social responsibilities.

Because they are so debilitating, many people choose to continue drinking alcohol or misusing substances to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. They find themselves in a cycle of trying to quit but not being able to due to physical and psychological dependence. This cycle can lead to a substance use disorder.

Substance Use Disorders Explained

Substance use disorders, previously called addiction, affect the person using substances and their friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else in their lives.

Substance use disorders occur because a person cannot stop using drugs or alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences. Signs you have an alcohol use or drug use disorder include spending most of your time seeking, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol or drugs. Another sign is you continue to misuse substances even after doing so has ruined relationships, caused a loss of employment, or hindered education.

The following are even more signs:

  • Abandoning commitments and responsibilities to drink or use substances.
  • Putting yourself in risky situations or exhibiting dangerous behaviors.
  • Trying to quit using but not being able to, even after severe consequences like overdose, accidents, DUIs, or being assaulted.
  • Drinking or using more than intended.
  • Engaging in activities that are illegal to get money to purchase substances.

Who Is At Risk for Dependence?

No one is immune to the effects of substance use. However, life factors put you at risk for developing a substance use disorder that others may not have. For instance, if your parents, siblings, grandparents, or other family members have substance use disorders, your risk increases because of a genetic association with addiction.

Other risks include mental health disorders, peer pressure, lack of family involvement, and substances. Some alcohol products and drugs have a higher likelihood of physical and psychological dependence.

Now that you understand the key differences between physical vs psychological dependence involved in addiction, you can take steps on the path to recovery.

Seeking substance disorder treatment for your symptoms of dependence is a key part of recovery. Someone can rarely overcome this disease alone. If so, everyone would do it. The best way to make the necessary changes to enjoy life in recovery is to seek a treatment facility with licensed clinical mental health and substance use professionals.

Your treatment plan will be individualized and may include medication-assisted detox, residential, intensive outpatient, support groups, and family therapy.

Treatment is a protective factor that puts distances between you and drugs or alcohol. The longer you stay in treatment, the more distance between you. Many people overcome physical and psychological dependence with help. You can too. Call us today to get started.