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When someone experiences addiction, it is likely that they exhibit noticeable withdrawal symptoms when they are without their substance of choice for an extended period of time. Many people understand withdrawal symptoms to be solely somatic, as they understand dependence to be physical in nature. But what about psychological dependence and associated withdrawals?

Physical vs. Psychological Dependence

Physical dependence is a condition that involves the presence of unpleasant, physical withdrawal symptoms when a regular drug user skips a dose, slows, or stops their drug use. When a drug is introduced to the body and used regularly over time, the body starts to rely on the substance to function normally. When a user stops using their substance, they experience physical symptoms of withdrawal as the body experiences a void from what the drug would typically produce. 

Most cases of physical dependence will need admittance to a detox facility, as it is crucial for severe symptoms of withdrawal to be monitored by a medical professional. Common, physical symptoms associated with withdrawal and physical dependence include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased sweating
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Psychological dependence is a condition that involves the presence of unpleasant emotional and mental experiences that a drug user experiences when they go through drug withdrawal. The general symptoms of psychological dependence include: 

  • Cravings
  • Triggering anxiety when attempting to stop drug use
  • Triggering depression when not under the influence of drug use
  • Other mood issues when not under the influence of drugs 
  • Issues with sleep or appetite when not using the desired drug
  • Obsessive thoughts over drug use
  • Obsessive thoughts over obtaining the desired drug
  • Cognitive-related issues such as problems with memory, concentration, and problem-solving

Interestingly enough, many symptoms that surface from psychological dependence also show up similarly to symptoms of physical dependence. The most important thing to understand about dependence is that there truly is no such thing as purely physical or purely psychological dependence. Like addiction, dependence affects everyone differently. 

Does Addiction Always Mean Dependence?

Drug addiction is best understood as a condition characterized by severe urges to consume a drug to achieve desired effects produced by the drug. Addiction is an inability to stop using or engaging in drug use, despite causing psychological or physical harm. 

Dependence typically refers to the psychological or physical dependence that your body has developed based on the drug you are consuming, alongside the various other elements that contribute to the intensity of substance use. Dependence does not necessarily mean that a person is addicted. 

On the other hand, it may be even easier to understand dependence and addiction by separating the different categories of dependence. Addiction almost always involves symptoms of psychological dependence. Oppositely, addiction does not always cause symptoms of physical dependence, but it does more often than not. 

When Is Dependence a Factor?

The easiest way to understand how or when dependence factors into addiction is to acknowledge that all substances of abuse are associated with both psychological and physical symptoms of dependence. There are, however, substances that seem to contribute greater and more severe symptoms of physical dependence. 

Substances that are associated with strong, physical dependence, typically needing medical detox when initially beginning drug treatment, include:

  • Alcohol
  • Narcotic opioids such as heroin or morphine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates

Likewise, there are also substances that seem to cause primarily psychological withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Stimulants
  • Marijuana
  • Inhalants
  • Psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants 

Treating Psychological Dependence

Severe situations of physical dependence must be treated in a detox facility, under the supervision of a medical professional. This is essential as the body can shut down completely if tolerance to a substance was high and substance use stopped abruptly. If physical dependence is not severe, a client will still need to monitor withdrawal symptoms alongside a discussion with a mental health professional. 

Treating psychological dependence is a bit more complex, as symptoms are not as straightforward with psychological dependence as they are with physical dependence. The best approach to treating any kind of psychological dependence is by working with a mental health professional to discuss and work through emotional and mental symptoms of distress while attempting to quit substance use. 

There are numerous therapy options available to help a person work through their psychological dependence, whether it occurs on its own or with physical dependence present as well. Therapy will help you to reflect on your current thought and behavior patterns, help address intrusive or self-destructive patterns, and work to create new and healthy patterns of thought and behavior. 

To become educated about addiction, you must also acknowledge both physical and psychological symptoms of dependence. While addiction does not always mean dependence, psychological dependence often means addiction. Living with substance use dependency of any kind can pose various risks to one’s well-being, especially when it comes to establishing long-term recovery. It is essential that those that are dependent to substance use get the necessary help that they need to heal. West Coast Recovery Centers is a nationally accredited treatment center that specializes in drug, alcohol, and behavioral health rehabilitation. Our staff understands that recovery must be individualized in order to be effective. We offer both traditional and holistic treatment therapy options that allow you to explore what treatment modalities will work best for your recovery from substance use dependency. To hear more about the treatment options and other resources we offer, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.