Physical Dependence vs. Psychological Dependence

Physical Dependence vs. Psychological Dependence

Read on to learn about the difference between psychological and physical dependence, as well as treatment options.

What Is Physical and Psychological Dependence?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding physical dependence and psychological dependence. Many people use these words interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

Physical dependence is when the body becomes used to a substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms when it stops receiving it.1

Indicators of Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can include headaches, nausea, sweating, and shaking. Physical dependence can develop after just a few days of using a substance, or it may take weeks or months.

Psychological dependence is when you feel like you need a substance to cope with life. You may not experience any physical symptoms when you stop using the substance, but you may feel anxious, depressed, or irritable without it.2

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How Is Physical Dependence Different From Addiction?

People often confuse physical dependence with addiction, but they are not the same thing. Substance abuse is a disease that affects the brain and causes compulsive drug-seeking behavior. Physical dependence is a normal bodily response to chronic drug use.


Substance abuse is a severe problem that requires professional treatment, but physical dependence can be managed with medical supervision. If you are physically dependent on a substance, you may first need to detoxify before starting other treatments.

Symptoms of Physical Dependence

Having gone through what physical dependence is, let's take a look at some of the symptoms:

Memory Loss

Memory loss is usually one of the first signs of someone developing physical dependence. They may start forgetting things they once knew or have trouble retaining new information.

Headaches

Another common symptom of physical dependence is headaches. These can range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Seizures

Seizures are when the body convulses and shakes uncontrollably. This is a severe symptom of physical dependence and can be life-threatening.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can be caused by withdrawal symptoms or the person's body trying to get rid of the substance.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is another symptom of physical dependence. This can be caused by the person's body not producing enough saliva or by them being dehydrated as a side effect of certain drugs being used.

Increased Heart Rate

An increased heart rate is another common symptom of physical dependence. This can be caused by the stress of withdrawal or the person's body trying to get rid of the substance.3

Body Aches and Pains

Body aches and pains are other common symptoms. This can be caused by the person's body trying to get rid of the substance or withdrawal symptoms.

Blood Pressure Changes

Blood pressure changes can be caused by the person's body trying to get rid of the substance or withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Psychological Dependence

Now that we've looked at physical dependence, let's take a look at some of the symptoms of psychological dependence as well. These can include:4

  • Intense substance cravings
  • Inability to imagine coping without the substance
  • Feeling restless when you're not using the substance
  • Being overcome with getting more of the drug
  • Anxiety if someone thinks they won’t be able to acquire the substance
  • Insomnia that related to not being able to use a drug
  • Craving that appears sporadically, even years after quitting the drug
  • Mood swings

Difference Between Physical and Psychological Dependence

The main difference between physical and psychological dependence is that physical dependence is a normal response to chronic drug use. In contrast, psychological dependence is a disease that affects the brain and can cause compulsive drug-seeking behavior that then potentially leads to addiction and abuse.


While physical and psychological dependence can lead to addiction, they are not the same. Addiction is a severe problem that requires professional treatment, but physical dependence can be managed with medical supervision.

Physical Vs. Psychological Dependence: Which is Worse?

The answer may not be as simple as you think. Yes, physical dependence can lead to withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using drugs or alcohol. And yes, these withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, and potentially even dangerous.5

However, mental dependence is often more powerful. Once a person is psychologically dependent on a substance, they may feel like they need it to get through the day. They may not be able to imagine life without it.

Dependence is a Struggle Regardless of Type

So, which is worse - physical dependence or psychological dependence? It depends on the person. Some people may find it easier to overcome physical dependency, while others may find psychological support more challenging to overcome. Either way, addiction is a disease of both the body and the mind, and it's essential to get help if you're struggling with it.

Relationship Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

While physical dependence and psychological dependence are different in many ways, they are both critical factors for those who struggle with substance abuse disorder. In most cases, people addicted to drugs or alcohol will experience both types of dependency.


For example, someone addicted to heroin may start out using the drug because they enjoy how it makes them feel. But as they continue to use it, their body will start to develop a physical dependence on the drug.


Then, as they become more and more dependent on the drug, their brain chemistry itself will start to change. They may feel like they need the medication to get through the day. At this point, they will be struggling with both physical and psychological dependence.

Treatment Difference Between Physical and Psychological Dependence

Treatment for physical dependence usually involves a period of detoxification, followed by medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms. Treatment for psychological dependence may include therapy, support groups, and medication.

Substances Associated with Psychological and Physical Dependence

Substances that can lead to physical dependence include:

  • Most stimulants, including cocaine and Ritalin
  • Most hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD
  • Cannabis products
  • Many inhalant products
  • Many psychotropic medications, such as antidepressant medications
  • Opiate drugs, such as heroin, morphine, and Vicodin
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan
  • Barbiturates, such as Seconal and phenobarbital

Get Treatment for Physical & Psychological Dependence at Genesis Recovery

If you or someone you love is struggling with physical or psychological dependence, we can help. At Genesis Recovery, we specialize in treating all types of addiction, including dual diagnosis disorders. We offer a variety of treatment options, including the following.

Drug Detox

Drug detox is the first step in overcoming substance abuse disorders. It involves removing all drugs and alcohol from your body. During detox, you will be closely monitored by our medical staff to ensure your safety and comfort. We will also provide medication to help manage any withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

After detox, you may be started on medication to help manage your addiction. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective treatment option for many people struggling with addiction. At Genesis Recovery, we offer a variety of MAT options, including:

  • Suboxone
  • Vivitrol
  • Naltrexone
  • Antabuse

These medications can help to reduce cravings and prevent relapse. They can also help to make withdrawal symptoms more manageable.

Therapy

In addition to detox and medication, you will also participate in therapy while in treatment. Therapy is an integral part of recovery, as it can help you understand the underlying causes of your addiction.


At Genesis Recovery, we offer a variety of therapy options, including individual, group, family, cognitive-behavioral, and dialectical-behavioral therapy.

Get Help Today 

Physical dependence and psychological dependence are both critical factors in addiction. In most cases, people addicted to drugs or alcohol will experience both types of dependence.


Treatment for physical dependence usually involves a period of detoxification, followed by medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms. Treatment for psychological addiction may include therapy, support groups, and medicine.


If you or someone you love is struggling with physical and psychological dependence, we can help. At Genesis Recovery, we specialize in treating all types of addiction, including dual diagnosis disorders. We offer various treatment options, including detoxification, medication-assisted treatment, and therapy.


Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help you or your loved one recover from addiction.