Withdrawal and Recovery: What’s the Difference Between Physical and Psychological Dependence?

Physical dependence is a chronic abuse of tolerance making drugs, whereby, any gradual or rapid drug withdrawal leads to severe physical symptoms.

Psychological dependence, on the other hand, is a state that comprises symptoms of emotional–motivational withdrawal, like anxiety and anhedonia, upon termination of drug use or some behaviours.

So, what is the difference between the two, you might ask? Let’s look into each one of them separately first.

Physical Dependence

When most people hear the words physical addiction, they often think of the occurring physical withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using the substance they have regularly been hooked to.

Once a person starts using a drug regularly, he/she becomes dependent on it unless they decide to get treatment. What this means is that their body cells can’t function properly without the drug since their bodies are accustomed to it.

Therefore, painful withdrawal symptoms start to show which makes most people get back to taking the drug so as to try and reduce the pain.

Withdrawal symptoms of physical dependence include:

  • Body aches.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Nausea.
  • Delirium Tremens.
  • Shakes or the chills.

Psychological Dependence

This term refers to the mental compulsion to use a substance so as to fulfill a need that only the drug can. This type of addiction can happen even when a person hasn’t started to display any physical dependency symptoms.

In this state, a person is tied emotionally to a certain drug based on mental desires for it. This mostly happens to people who use drugs that might not cause very severe withdrawal symptoms when they are not using them.

For instance, marijuana users often don’t think they’ve been addicted since they can physically stay without using it. However, their minds create an extreme desire to use it and that could negatively impact them in many ways. This often leads to:

  • Loss of sleep.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Changes in appetite.

So how do the two differ?

The difference between psychological and physical addiction is not as well-defined as you might think. People’s physical and psychological reactions aren’t common across all types of drugs. This then makes it easier to put the different symptoms and signs into two diverse categories.

The body fully controls physical addition, while the mind entirely controls psychological addiction. When you look at it in that angle, it makes it easier to differentiate between the two types even if the line separating them can seem a blur.

Therefore, saying that physical and psychological addiction is entirely distinct and separate would be misleading.

Having said that, one can sometimes have addiction symptoms that can be considered psychological. For instance, when you are a gambling addict, you will solely suffer from a strong psychological desire to gamble.

On the other hand, if you’re addicted to a particular drug or alcohol, you’ll typically develop a psychological addiction first and then later, a physical one.

To get the most from your recovery process, you need to understand the dynamics. So, it would be advisable to seek professional help. With courage and determination, you can beat drug addiction and redeem your good life once more.

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