Physical and Psychological Dependence

There are two aspects of substance addiction and drug abuse that must be confronted in order to nurture one’s platform to build their recovery upon; physical and psychological dependence. Either one of the two may be in play, or both of these factors, depending on the substances one is using. Highly addictive drugs like heroin are BOTH physically and psychologically addictive, while drugs like marijuana are primarily psychologically addictive; yes, marijuana can be psychologically addictive.

Dependence Vs. Addiction

Something to also consider is the relationship between dependence and addiction. It is possible for individuals to become dependent on substances, however, not fully addicted to them. For example, someone may be prescribed opiates or pain killers due to an injury. After taking the medication for some time, the body becomes dependent on the medication. This is a perfect example of physical dependence. Once the pain is gone and there is no need for the medication, most people have no problem without the pain killers. There might be some mild withdrawal symptoms but a psychological connection to needing the opiates hasn’t formed yet.

Drug addiction, on the other hand, occurs when individuals abuse substances for long periods of time. In addition to the physical components of dependence, they will also experience psychological aspects that make stopping a challenge few choose to face. Now that we have a basic idea of dependence, addiction, and where the two meet, let’s dive into physical dependence and psychological dependence.

Related: Drug Abuse vs. Misuse: What’s the Difference?

What is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence, or physiological dependence, is exactly what it sounds like; the body needs a certain substance in order to function properly. Physical addiction is best addressed with a medical detox, because all of the substances that are physically addictive have serious withdrawal symptoms. Oftentimes, treatment for substance use disorders starts at the detox level of care to appropriately treat withdrawal symptoms until individuals are stabilized.

The Dangers of Physical Dependence and Withdrawal

There are dangers involved with alcohol and Xanax withdrawal, and if not done properly it is possible to die from these detoxes. Physical withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens can be life threatening, highlighting the importance of professional and medical support. Physical dependence is best handled through a detox facility if there are dangerous levels of consumption taking place for this very reason; even drugs like meth and heroin which do not risk death during detox, are usually best done under the care of a professional.

The Physical and Mental Connection

This physical dependence fuels and motivates psychological dependence, by wiring together neurons in the brain through a consistent connection between ones behavior and thoughts. Additionally, physical symptoms from withdrawal can create a vicious cycle by influencing psychological dependence. This can occur as a result of fear and anxiety surrounding being without the substance in question. In other words, psychological and physical dependence go hand in hand regardless of the substances being used.

What is Psychological Dependence?

Psychological dependence, or psychological addiction, is a different beast altogether; it can be coupled with physical dependence or a thing all it’s own. There are substances that are not physically addictive, but, they can become extremely psychologically addictive over time. Marijuana is a prime example of this – it is often marketed as non-addictive, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Just ask anyone who has suffered from psychological dependence on marijuana, and they will tell you that they needed it to sleep, eat, relax, and socialize. This psychological addiction plagues the way one lives their life just as much as physical dependence does, and often times it persists much longer in a phase of abstinence than physical dependence.

Once abstinent for a period of time, the physical dependence tends to fade away, but the psychological dependence, and the obsession that comes with, lingers on for quite some time. Psychological dependence affects multiple facets of lives in the emotional nature of one’s disease; they are emotionally invested into a particular substance and have a hard time letting it go on this emotional level.

The reason for this is that the substances have been the source of pleasure for the person for so long that there is a conscious or subconscious connection with the abused substance and happiness. The best way to overcome psychological dependence is through long-term recovery facilities that teach an individual coping skills and behavior patterns that the individual can use to replace their old ways.

Related: What Every Parent Needs To Know About Addiction

Treating Substance Use Disorder

Treatment of substance abuse must tackle both of these aspect of dependence, in order to initiate any level of success of long-term recovery. A “simple” medical detox facility may be able to break physical dependence, but it cannot tackle psychological dependence in a mere 30 days or less. There are various strategies for tackling these two beasts, but the research has shown long-term addiction treatment facilities to work best. The reason that they work best is because they provide a place for the individual to build, and nurture, new behavior patterns, thought patterns, and coping skills. These two distinct aspects of dependence, physical and psychological, must be the cornerstones in which one tackles their recovery, in order to be able to obtain a psychic change with results more typically from a spiritual experience.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t wait to get the help you need. Effective treatment options are available that can help individuals, and their families, heal from the disease of addiction. Contact us today to learn more about how New Life House has been helping young men achieve long-term sobriety since 1985. Our robust treatment model is multi-faceted, offering unparalleled family programming, opportunities to pursue school with educational programming, professional mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as a strong recovery community reinforced with alumni programming. Our sober living program in Los Angeles is the perfect place for young men to start building a new life free of addiction.

Last Updated on June 14, 2024


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