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Physical Addiction vs. Psychological Dependency

Everyone seems to have a different definition of addiction, making it hard to recognize if you or a loved one has a problem and is in need of help. One aspect that adds to the confusion is whether a substance or behavior is a physical addiction or if it only leads to a psychological dependency. However, the two aren’t separate but connected and both just as applicable in diagnosing addiction, reveals Psychology Today.

Physical Addiction

Drugs such as alcohol and opioids are known as depressants. As you use these, your body becomes tolerant of the drug so that it begins to lose its effect, called tolerance. You must increase the amount you consume in order to obtain the desired feelings the substance gives you. If you go too long between hits or try to stop altogether, you exhibit severe physical symptoms such as the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches, twitches, or tremors
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chills

They may also bring other, less intense physical problems such as fatigue, sleep challenges, and changes in appetite.

 

Psychological Dependency

Some addictions don’t come with painful withdrawal symptoms. Instead, they lead to mental and emotional anguish:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings and/or obsessive thoughts about the substance
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Difficulty with concentration, problem-solving, and memory

These occur not only for compulsive behavioral disorders such as gambling addiction but also for substance use disorders.

 

The Problem With These Distinctions

The problems with separating addictions into these two categories are manifold. The first is that the body and mind are connected, with each impacting the other. Therefore, something that may be seen as only psychological has an effect on the physical, and vice versa. It’s not one or the other but both. For example, going through withdrawals is likely to lead to feelings of hopelessness, and being in a depressive state is likely to cause obstacles with sleeping and eating. In addition, the brain is a bodily organ, so it falls under the physical category anyway.

Second, issues such as cocaine or marijuana addiction may not lead to serious withdrawal symptoms, but that doesn’t mean those drugs aren’t dangerous or addictive. They simply react differently in the body than depressants do, most notably by not creating a need for higher quantities of the substance. They still result in other types of physical conditions, though, and it’s impossible to judge how distressing they are to suffer through even if they may seem minor. Thus, they still fall under physical dependency. The same goes for addictions to shopping, love, pornography, gambling, exercise, food, etc.

Third, tolerance and withdrawals alone aren’t good enough measurements of addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those who take pain medication can become dependent on it without qualifying as being addicted. That label requires the presence of additional circumstances.

 

How To Determine Addiction

Addiction, then, relies on more than just how your body responds to the drug or action you engage in. What’s equally if not more important is how the substance or behavior is affecting your life. Is it getting in the way of work responsibilities, financial security, important relationships, and self-care? Do you feel miserable and want to stop but are unable to, even when facing negative consequences? Are your loved ones worried about the way your life is going and the changes they’ve seen in you?

If any of these apply to you, you may have an addiction. It’s true even if the behavior seems positive, like helping others. The good news is that you can get help here at Clean Recovery Centers. We offer numerous programs so you can find the right treatment plan for your needs and maintain full recovery.

 

Sources

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