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Physical vs. Psychological Addiction: What’s the Difference?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Though the damaging emotional and social consequences of addiction disorders are well-documented, no two addictions are alike. Some addictions affect a person physically, while some cause psychological symptoms. Others can become both physical and psychological. Identifying the best course of treatment requires understanding the difference.

What Is Physical Addiction?

Physical addiction to drugs or alcohol occurs when your body becomes dependent on continued use of the substance to feel normal. For example, if you regularly drink caffeinated coffee or soft drinks throughout the day, you’ll likely experience mild to severe headaches if you skip a day or decide to wean yourself off these beverages. These headaches are a symptom of caffeine withdrawal – a sign your body is craving the addictive substance.

The same effect occurs when a person who is physically addicted to drugs or alcohol cuts down on their use or tries to quit completely, though the symptoms are usually much more pronounced and unpleasant than merely having a headache – and, in some cases, they can even be life-threatening. Depending on the substance, withdrawal symptoms can emerge within only a few hours of not having it in your system. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Chills or tremors
  • Delirium
  • Mood changes, such as anger or irritability

What Is Psychological Addiction?

A psychological dependence occurs when you have repeated intrusive thoughts about using your drug of choice. Psychological addictions are typical with drugs such as marijuana, which do not create a chemical dependency. The same is also true of a behavioral disorder like a food or gambling addiction. The compulsion to keep pursuing the activity goes long past the point where it is fun or pleasurable; instead, your mind develops a strong craving for the euphoria you get from doing it.

Though psychological addictions are usually not as dangerous as physical addictions, they can still adversely affect your life. Going without a substance your brain associates with pleasurable sensations can cause you to experience symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like illness
  • Increases or decreases in appetite
  • Extreme cravings
  • Mood swings

Treating Physical and Psychological Addiction

Treatment for physical addiction usually begins with medically supervised detox to help free the body and mind from harmful substances in a safe and comfortable setting that decreases dangerous withdrawal symptoms. The time frame of the detox treatment depends on the type and length of substance use.

Psychological treatment addresses the underlying reasons that caused the person to develop their drug dependency in the first place. However, it cannot begin until the detox process is complete and the substance has fully left the user’s body.

Since addictions are not created equal, every psychological treatment plan must be tailored to each person’s individual needs. Psychological treatment often includes therapies such as family addiction counseling and 12-step recovery, alongside education that helps people develop healthy life skills and learn how to prevent a relapse.

Life-Changing Addiction Treatment in Arizona

Choosing to enter treatment for physical and psychological addiction is the first step in rebuilding your life and rediscovering your full potential. At Canyon Crossing, we offer a range of women’s-only addiction programs to help our clients achieve freedom from substance abuse. Get the help you need today.

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