Difference Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

Woman smoking a cigarette with her hood up

Drug addiction is a complex and progressive condition that consumes people gradually over time. The complexity of addiction involves a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. While many people consider physical and psychological symptoms as one and the same, each has differences that must be understood to treat this condition. This article will delve into the differences between physical and psychological addiction and effective methods for addressing each of them.

Understanding Physical Addiction

When people first start using drugs and alcohol, the feelings of euphoria, bliss, or calm they experience is highly enjoyable and reinforcing. Over time, those feelings diminish, and as a result, they need to take more of their substance of choice to feel the same effects. This adaptation in the brain and body due to substance use is known as tolerance, which is a key characteristic of addiction.

When people begin to abstain from addictive substances or abruptly stop taking them altogether, they will experience symptoms of physical addiction or withdrawal. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Nausea and Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Agitation
  • Irritability

The severity of these symptoms is dependent on several factors. These factors depend on the type of drug or drugs used, the quantity used, and the duration in which drug use has occurred. People with underlying health issues may experience additional symptoms related to the combination of drug withdrawal and physical ailments.

Understanding Psychological Dependence

Substances significantly alter brain chemistry and functioning. Drugs and alcohol hijack the brain’s ability to product neurotransmitters that help regulate one’s mood. When the brain no longer has the ability to produce those essential brain chemicals, people must rely on the substances themselves to function daily. When people stop taking addictive substances, it creates dysfunction in the brain. As a result, users will experience intense cravings and urges for their substance of choice.

In addition to cravings and urges to use drugs and alcohol, the common symptoms associated with psychological addiction are the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Experiencing visual, tactile and audio hallucinations
  • Violent mood swings
  • Flashbacks
  • Onset of psychosis
  • Confusion and loss of control of emotions

Like the physical symptoms of addiction, the severity of the psychological symptoms of addiction varies widely depending on the drug(s) consumed, the length of time used, quantity, and if multiple drugs are being used. If people have underlying undiagnosed mental health conditions, the psychological symptoms of addiction can be more pronounced and even dangerous.

Differences Between Physical Addiction and Psychological Addiction

With both physical and psychological addiction more clearly defined, it is easy to see the differences between the two. For example, physical dependence features symptoms that can make a person ill, while psychological addiction creates persistent and often intense urges to use substances to satisfy those urges. It is possible to become psychologically dependent on a drug without feeling the effects of physical dependence. This is especially true for marijuana users since not every user will experience the signs of physical addiction.

Since chronic substance use alters brain chemistry, people who experience physical addiction will need to take a certain amount of their drug(s) of choice in order not to feel the symptoms of withdrawal. Conversely, a user’s altered brain chemistry will engage in unhealthy behaviors to obtain drugs. This can include isolating from family and friends or stealing money and property to get their drug of choice.

Professional Help is Needed to Break the Cycle

For those in the grips of drug addiction, they must seek professional help to break the vicious cycle of both physical and psychological addiction. Attempts to quit drugs by going cold turkey or using self-invented detox methods often do more harm than good. By undergoing drug treatment at a reputable drug treatment facility, addicts will receive individualized care and get the tools and support they need to live a healthy and happy life in recovery.

If you, a family member, or a friend is dealing with drug addiction, you may be unsure of what options you have or who you can turn to for advice. Contact your local addiction treatment center, counselor, or a family doctor to see what treatment programs and services will best fit your needs. Early intervention offers the best chance of recovering from addiction so don’t wait

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