What Is Psychological Dependence

What Is Psychological Dependence?

Psychological dependence can be described as a series of conditioned responses that are triggered by situations or emotions that compel someone to use a substance like drugs or alcohol or to engage in an addictive behavior like gambling or sex. Triggers can be any situation or feeling that the person associates with the addictive behavior. For example, feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression might trigger the need for a substance.

Some of the main symptoms for psychological dependence include the following:

• Cravings
• Restlessness
• Irritation
• Depression
• Appetite changes
• Mood swings
• Sleep problems
• Denial
• Obsessive feelings towards the addictive substance or behavior
• Memory and focus issues

What Is Psychological Dependence?

Psychological dependence is sometimes also called mental dependence. Many experts agree that the psychological aspect of addiction is at least as damaging as the physical aspect, if not more so. That’s one of the reasons why addiction treatment often focuses very heavily on behavioral health issues and behavioral counseling. You might not realize it, but psychological dependence also produces withdrawal symptoms even if you aren’t physically addicted. For example, you might become depressed or nauseous when you can’t engage in your addiction. Psychological dependence is the main component of process addictions like gambling and sex.

The Difference Between Psychological Dependence and Physical Dependence

Psychological and physical dependence are often used interchangeably when it comes to addiction. However, there are some distinct differences between the two. Physical dependence is about the body becoming dependent on a substance through repeated use. When the use is stopped or lessened, the body produces physical withdrawal symptoms. This is due to the body being unable to function correctly without the substance. Some symptoms associated with physical dependence include the following:

• Diarrhea
• Chills or shakes
• Nausea
• Body aches
• Fever
• Tremors
• Flu-like symptoms
• Hallucinations

Physical symptoms of withdrawal have the potential to be dangerous. For example, seizures and hallucinations can put someone in a bad situation if they fall unconscious or see things that aren’t there. Most of the time, the symptoms are simply extremely uncomfortable, and this extreme discomfort often leads back to substance use in order to alleviate the symptoms.

How Does Psychological Dependence Start?

Psychological dependence is an interesting issue. Some people might not have any symptoms of physical addiction at all but very clearly display symptoms of mental addiction. However, it’s also fair to say that all types of addiction have some psychological aspects. The way these aspects develop varies by person. No one generally starts to abuse a substance with the express intent to become addicted. However, their behavioral health status often makes addiction inevitable. In other words, the reasons they start using drugs or alcohol are instrumental in causing their eventual addiction.

For example, you might start drinking heavily when you notice that the depressant effect of alcohol calms your anxiety. However, drinking alcohol does nothing to solve the source of your anxiety. A person in this situation might start increasing how much alcohol they consume, which begins to create psychological dependence. Getting out of it is almost impossible without professional treatment.

Another example is how trauma leads to substance abuse. The person may use substance abuse to deal with symptoms of trauma, but the symptoms often become worse with the substance abuse.

Is Psychological Dependence the Same Thing as Addiction?

Although addiction almost always includes some form of psychological dependence, the terms aren’t interchangeable. Substance dependence, whether physical or psychological, often leads to addiction. Addiction is actually the combination of both physical and psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. Another way to look at it is that an addicted person exhibits a chronic psychological need for the addictive substance as well as symptoms of physical dependence. For example, they may chronically and repetitively pursue the substance and use it before they show any physical effects of withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction to drugs or alcohol also causes brain changes in the areas crucial for decision-making, impulse control, judgment, memory and learning. Addiction often hijacks the reward center of the brain as well. This causes the brain to not recognize pleasurable feelings with anything else except for the addictive substance or behavior. In other words, if the person is unable to engage in substance use or a specific addictive behavior, they won’t be able to feel pleasure.

Substances That Cause Psychological and Physical Dependence

In general, it’s possible for all abused substances to create some combination of psychological and physical dependence. However, many experts separate certain substances that cause mainly psychological withdrawal symptoms. These substances include the following:

• Stimulants like cocaine and Ritalin
• Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD
• Cannabis
• Inhalants
• Psychotropic prescription medication like anti-depressants

On the other hand, there are certain substances that are more strongly linked with physical dependence and physical withdrawal symptoms. Those substances include the following:

• Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax
• Opiates like heroin and Vicodin
• Barbiturates like phenobarbital

All of these substances can potentially produce both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and dependence.

Separating Psychological and Physical Dependence

When it comes to addiction, it’s actually not helpful to completely separate both forms of dependence as they are almost always intertwined. When you become psychologically dependent on a substance, you will experience a number of emotional and cognitive symptoms that interfere with your daily life. Physical dependence is the formation of tolerance to a substance as well as physical withdrawal symptoms when the substance is discontinued or use is reduced. In order to better understand addictive behaviors, it’s important to recognize the interplay of these two forms of dependence.

For example, as mentioned previously, many withdrawal symptoms that come from physical dependence on a substance are primarily psychological in nature. This includes symptoms like hallucinations, irritation, agitation and strong cravings for the substance. At the same time, you can also have these psychological symptoms when you are psychologically dependent on a substance but do not have a physical tolerance yet. In other words, both forms of dependence are heavily intertwined in addiction.

Treatment for Psychological Dependence

Understanding mental and physical addiction is an important part of seeking treatment. If you or a loved one are dealing with mental addiction, New Method Wellness can help. New Method Wellness is a dual diagnosis treatment center with a full range of rehab programs and therapies to treat addiction and behavioral health problems. We use a personalized approach to treating addiction that is highly tailored to the individual.

For those with a physical dependence on alcohol or drugs, we have detox programs available to help you through withdrawal symptoms. After that, a wide range of therapy programs can help you with the mental aspect of addiction. Don’t let psychological dependence ruin your life. Reach out to New Method Wellness today to find out more about our treatments.

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