Differences Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

When you’re caught in the grip of addiction, it’s a very frightening and confusing place. You may feel bewildered, angry, scared and out of control. In fact, there are a whole host of emotions you may be experiencing.

It’s true that when you’re struggling with addiction, it can be a very lonely experience — especially when you’re dealing with both physical and psychological issues from drug addiction.

Substance abuse is complex by nature and physical and psychological addiction can often overlap, so you may not know one from the other. It is so important for you to be able to differentiate between the two before you enter a drug rehab program.

The first step to getting clean is realizing — and admitting — that you have a substance abuse problem. The next step is identifying, either on your own or through the help of a rehab center, such as 12 Keys, whether your addiction is a physical or psychological one.

Here, we will look at the differences between physical and psychological addiction in detail, so you know what you’re dealing with, and how best to tackle it. It is important to know that while we will separate physical and psychological addiction into sections to help explain each, the two types of addiction can and do overlap.

What is Addiction?

Before splitting addiction out into physical and psychological addiction, it is helpful to understand what addiction is as an umbrella term. When people talk about addiction, it means the continued use of a substance that alters a person’s mood in spite of negative consequences/behaviors.

To understand what addiction is, you need to be aware of the difference between physical and psychological addiction as well as tolerance and dependence. We’ll touch on these here, and explore each in more detail below.

If you take opiates for a prolonged period, as an example, you’ll build up a tolerance to the drugs. Receptors within your brain will become less sensitive, and you’ll need higher and higher doses of the drug to get the same effect.

Soon, the body will be unable to make enough natural opioids to satisfy the tolerant receptors and will become dependent on the drugs you’re taking. This is physical dependence.

This physical dependence occurs when your body physiologically adapts to an external substance. When this substance is taken away, you’ll suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence is the result of actual changes within the brain, and it is entirely possible to be physically dependent on a substance without being addicted.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a behavioral syndrome characterized by the compulsive and repeated seeking out (psychological dependence) or usage of a drug in spite of negative physical, psychological and/or social consequences. Along with this comes the physical need for more and more of a drug to get the desired high. With addiction often comes physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal syndrome.

Physical drug Addiction Explained     

Simply defined, you have a physical addiction when you repeatedly use a drug until you become so dependent on it that your body can no longer function without it.

You can become physically addicted to anything from prescribed drugs to alcohol and heroin. The higher the dose you use, as well as the length of time you’ve been using, the more negative effects you’ll see and the worse your withdrawal symptoms, will become.

When you introduce drugs into your body, your system will compensate by creating its own chemical reactions to counter their effects. In time though, your body will stop reacting to the substances in the way it did when they were first introduced, and developing a tolerance.

When your body becomes tolerant to a drug, you’ll find that you need to take more and more of it to get the same feelings you did when you first took it. This is a physical addiction, and the degree and speed it can creep up on you can differ depending on various factors, such as:

  • The substance you’re abusing.
  • How frequently you take the substance.
  • The way you take it.
  • Your family medical history.

Substance abuse is something that you cannot tackle alone, and if left untreated, can lead on to irreversible major organ damage, and even death.

Symptoms of Physical Addiction

Substance abuse is a very serious problem that should never be ignored. When you’re physically addicted, it can manifest as both physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms occur due to changes in the brain and central nervous system, which are a result of chronic substance abuse.

If you’re worried that you might be physically addicted, there are some physical and psychological warning signs to look out for:

  • Memory loss
  • Blackouts
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted pupils
  • Body aches
  • Pulse rate changes
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Restless legs

Psychological Addiction Explained

Now that you know about physical addiction and its associated symptoms, it’s time to explain psychological addiction. The definition of the word “psychological” means arising from, or relating to the emotions or mind. Therefore, when you speak about psychological addiction, it relates to how you can become mentally dependent on substances or the behaviors you display as a result of the psychological addiction.

If you’re psychologically addicted, you have an emotional or mental attachment to a substance. Along with this, you’ll feel strongly compelled to seek out and use your chosen substance. If you can’t get what you want, it can lead to some incredibly volatile emotions.

If you are experiencing a psychological addiction and attempt to quit using your drug of choice, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to compensate for the lack of chemicals in its system.

Withdrawal symptoms can be intense and may include:

Physical symptoms

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Tightness in our chest
  • Palpitations
  • Racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

Emotional symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social isolation
  • Depression

Symptoms of Psychological Addiction

The symptoms of psychological addiction can be very strong and debilitating. They include:

  • Intense substance cravings
  • Appetite loss
  • Denial
  • Inability to imagine coping without the substance
  • Appetite loss
  • Feeling restless when you’re not using the substance
  • Being mentally obsessed with getting more of the drug
  • Anxiety when thinking of not being able to access the substance
  • Insomnia that related to not being able to use a drug
  • Craving that appears sporadically, even years after quitting the drug
  • Mood swings

Cravings Explained

Cravings are a key factor in psychological addictions, so it’s important for you to understand what they are. A craving is an intense desire for something and is one of the hallmarks of psychological dependence.

If you try to stop your addiction, or even just cut down on your drug use, you’ll experience cravings. These can be so intense that they completely take over your life, and potentially significantly reduce your ability to think straight or focus on other areas of your life, like your job, education or relationships.

Generally speaking, cravings don’t last for long. However, they can be very upsetting, and may even lead you back down the road to relapse.

How Does Physical and Psychological Addiction Differ?

The difference between physical and psychological addiction is not as defined as you might think. As people’s psychological and physical reactions aren’t universal across all types of drugs, it’s hard to put all the different signs and symptoms of addiction into two completely distinct categories.

When you take into account that the body controls physical addition, while the mind controls psychological addiction, it becomes easier to tell the difference between the two different types, even though the line between them can blur. Hence, it would be misleading to say that psychological addiction and physical addiction are entirely separate and distinct.

That said, sometimes you can have symptoms of addiction that are mostly psychological. For example, if you are addicted to gambling, you’ll solely suffer from an intense psychological urge to gamble. If, on the other hand, you’re addicted to a substance like a specific drug or type of spirit, you’ll usually first develop a psychological addiction and then a physical one.

The Relationship Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

Although physical and psychological addictions have characteristics that set them apart from each other, they do have a symbiotic relationship. Together, the two create a very debilitating and vicious addiction cycle that is notoriously difficult to break without professional help.

When you begin using drugs, your initial euphoric feelings are tied into the places and situations in which you use them. This then plays a role in reinforcing your future usage habits.

As your body gets used to whichever substances you’re taking, you’ll need more and more drugs to achieve the same effect. This then begins to have a greater impact on your body chemistry and brain function. If, after this, you try to quit drugs, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms, and should seek help from an experienced rehab center to get you through detoxification safely.

Because there is a strong relationship between physical vs. psychological addiction, both need addressing for full and holistic healing.

Dependence or Addiction

When you’re discussing the difference between physical and psychological dependence, it’s easy to become confused between the words “dependence” and “addiction,” as they’re often used interchangeably. “Addiction” is a word that many people attach negative connotations. This can be understandable, even if a little confusing.

As an example, most people define dependence the situation, such as someone who has been relying on strong painkillers for a chronic condition, and who have become tolerant to them, and will experience withdrawal symptoms if they cease to take the medication.

You wouldn’t equate this person with being an addict, as they are taking their medication in a controlled way, for their own medical benefit. However, when people mention the word “addict,” they’re usually discussing someone who is taking substances in order to feel good and not someone that had it prescribed to them for a specific medical reason.

Stimulants vs. Depressants

It is true that your brain and your body will react very differently to stimulants, such as meth and cocaine than it will to depressants like heroin and alcohol.

With regular use of depressants, it is relatively easy to develop a physical tolerance. When this happens, every time you drink, you’ll need more alcohol to achieve the effect you want.

It is also true that when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, you’ll generally experience physical withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling ill, nauseous and shaky. For some people, psychological withdrawal is also a problem, and they begin to experience very strong alcohol cravings.

Conversely, if you are a regular user of stimulant drugs, it is entirely different. You might develop sensitization or partial tolerance. In sensitization, lesser amounts of a drug like cocaine can cause its effects to become intensified. In partial tolerance, you’ll need a little more of the drug every time you use it in order to achieve the same high.

Another notable difference is that most stimulant users will go through psychological withdrawal, rather than a physical one when they cease to use drugs. What this means, is that they will usually experience cravings and strong desires to use again.

Treatments for Physical Addiction

When it comes to treating your addiction, the physical aspects are often treated separately from the psychological ones, even though they go hand in hand. When you decide to begin treatment, you need to get through a medically supervised detox in order to minimize any potential dangers of withdrawal and to address the physical aspects of your addiction.

This physical withdrawal usually lasts between a few days, a week, or perhaps longer depending on the drug type, how long you’ve been taking it, and usage amount.

When you participate in the detoxification services at 12 Keys, you’ll be slowly weaned off the substance you’re addicted to, to minimize any negative physical withdrawal symptoms and to ensure that your detoxification is medically supervised.

Treatments for Psychological Addiction

Once you have all traces of the drug out of your system and you’re stable, you’ll be given treatment to address the psychological aspects of your addiction. Detox may get your body clean. However, it doesn’t address the underlying desire to use drugs.

As you are an individual, here at 12 Keys, your treatment is tailored to you and to your needs, and generally consists of coping and life skills, therapy, relapse prevention education, and training, which are all essential skills for living a sober, and positive life.

Counseling and behavioral therapy are very important aspects of your treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used method of helping you identify, cope with, and avoid any situations you find yourself in that can be triggers for taking drugs.

Often, motivational interviewing is used to help you get in touch with your values, as a way of avoiding using again, whereas family therapy will often be used to help you, and your family function correctly again, and to rebuild the bridges between you that may have broken down.

No matter what your addiction, with the right tools and support, you can overcome it.

Getting Help for Physical and/or Psychological Addiction

If you’re feeling worried and lost in terms of seeking out help for your physical or psychological addiction, don’t be. There is so much help out there if you’re just willing to take the first step and ask for it.

Considered by some people to be a taboo subject, there is a far greater understanding of addiction among both laymen and professionals nowadays. You’re suffering from an illness, and you need to get treatment for it as soon as you possibly can.

It’s common to sweep the thought of addiction under the carpet, and not to talk about it. However, a healthy and open dialogue needs to be encouraged to change the way people perceive physical and psychological addiction and the many modalities of treatment available.

When you watch TV, you might think that residential treatment is something utterly terrifying. Although addiction treatment can be a difficult process, it’s not the nightmarish situation TV makes it out to be.

When you’re in residential rehab, you’ll be moving towards a clean and productive life. You’ll be supported and inspired throughout your journey. Surrounding you will be reliable, well-educated and professional people you can rely upon for help 24/7.

To truly get the most from your addiction treatment, you need to be able to understand the dynamics, so ongoing education and aftercare help is a huge part of getting clean. With determination and courage, you can beat your drug addiction, and life can be good again.

Do You Really Need Professional Treatment to Overcome your Physical and Psychological Addiction?

In order to give yourself the best chance at attaining and maintaining a healthy and positive lifestyle, professional treatment is the preferred option when you’re trying to quit drugs. Although you may feel that you can stop whenever you want to, the reality is probably very different, as you are dealing with an illness, not just a habit.

Through seeking out professional treatment, you confront your addiction head-on, and with full support. You are suffering from a disease that professional medical staff can help you to treat.

Having said this, taking that first step towards lifelong sobriety can be difficult. However, when you face the truth and ask for help, your first steps have already begun.

What Makes a Physical and Psychological Addiction Treatment Program Successful?

As addiction treatment is a lifetime undertaking, and there is no actual and final cure-all for substance abuse, it’s important to remember that you’ll always be in recovery. The issue of addiction doesn’t ever really go away, and it’s true that you’ll sometimes need to fight your demons for a considerable time after you’ve left rehab.

This is why a professional and intensive rehab program with good aftercare is necessary for your success in beating your habit. The CDC reports that more than two million Americans were dependent on prescription opiates in 2014.  The United Nations recently released the World Drug Report 2016, which indicated that there are more than 29 million people worldwide who suffer from a serious drug use disorder. So, know that if you are struggling with an opiates addiction or other substance abuse disorder, know that you are not alone.

For those two million who are abusing opioids, or 29 million people with a substance abuse disorder to successfully get through rehab, they must have professional and ongoing support and give the program their complete commitment.

Remember, although there are some differences between physical and psychological addiction, there is often an overlap of the two categories. What is entirely true, however, is that the struggle with physical and psychological addiction symptoms is one that is very real, and very hard.

If you, or someone close to you, can identify with any of these many signs and symptoms of addiction, it’s time to get help. We here at 12 Keys are here to help. Contact us to get started on recovery.

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