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Psychological Versus Physical Addiction


Addiction is complicated with both physical and psychological symptoms. They each require different methods for addressing substance abuse, but inpatient treatment exists to meet all of the different needs. Psychological dependence is the most difficult to break and the primary cause of failed recovery, but it too can be healed.

Understanding Physical Reliance

Substance abuse causes the body to become reliant on the substance, leading to a higher tolerance and negative effects when a person goes without it. Withdrawal from the substance is painful which is why most addicts will continue to self-medicate rather than stopping if they do not have appropriate help. Typical signs of withdrawal that point to a physical reliance include:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea and/or headache
  • Confusion, lack of concentration
  • Increased agitation, anger or depression
  • Serious symptoms like seizures and hallucinations

Understanding Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence is deeper than physical dependence. Psychological addictions can be to anything, not only substances. Gambling is one of the most common examples of a psychological addiction, but dependence on substances also has a psychological component. Because substance abuse is usually a form of self-medication to address or avoid emotional or psychological trauma, pain or distress, it is also the most difficult aspect to work through. Common symptoms of withdrawal related to psychological dependence include:

  • Anxiety
  • Inexplicable irritability
  • Increased anger, volatility, mania and/or depression
  • Erratic and confused thinking and behavior
  • Dissatisfaction and unease
  • Inability to feel pleasure or a general numbness to feelings
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychological dependence is also the mind connection that leads the addict to become obsessed with their substance of choice and how to procure it. The sense that one is incomplete and needs the substance to survive is a psychological aspect.

Understanding The Differences

Physical and psychological addiction manifest differently and almost always coincide together, though it is possible to have a purely psychological dependence without the physical. Psychological dependence is more complex because it isn’t solved by detoxing the body, but requires other techniques to work through the underlying issues that led to the substance abuse in the first place. Thoroughly addressing the physical dependence usually must happen first to allow the mind to focus on addressing the emotional issues. There are many methods for addressing both the physical and psychological dependence and breaking them, but they are all best and safest in an inpatient setting.

Benefits of Inpatient Treatment

The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a 2011 report stating 23.5 million people over the age of 12 in the US were in need of inpatient treatment for substance abuse (including alcohol), but only 11.2% of them had actually received treatment in a facility. The benefits of inpatient treatment include:

  • Supervised professional treatment
  • Access to a team of supportive professionals including doctors and counselors
  • Removal from the stresses related to the lifestyle of abuse
  • Opportunity to meet others in similar situations for support
  • Lack of access to substances
  • Access to the most up-to-date treatment methodologies
  • Individualized treatment plans that combine techniques

Addiction has a variety of causes and getting to the core of the dependence is necessary to properly treat the situation and increase successful recovery. This can only be done in a professional environment and with access to many different recovery tools and options.

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