Millions of people face addiction on a daily basis.

With a growing epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse, many people are desperately seeking answers. They want to know why people become addicted and what causes addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported from their national survey in 2014 that approximately 21.5 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year, which was broken down into the following:

  • 17 million people with an alcohol use disorder.
  • 1 million with an illicit drug use disorder.
  • 6 million who had both an alcohol use and an illicit drug use disorder.

Aside from the long debated topic about whether addiction is a disease or a choice, there are also many people who question whether there is a difference between physical addiction and psychological addiction. Often people think of these as completely separate processes, but they are actually simultaneous.

“What people are really referring to when they make this comparison is the distinction between physical withdrawal symptoms that are part of physiological dependence and the addictive process in the brain,” according to Dr. Adi Jaffe in his article on Psychology Today.

Perhaps a better way to look at the two is to look at the dependence properties of each.

Physical dependence

When most people think of physical addiction, they are usually attributing it to the thought of the physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone stops giving their body the substance they have been using regularly.

Once a person begins using on a daily or regular basis, the body becomes dependent on that drug. This means the cells can’t function they way they have been without the drug they have become accustomed to. As a result, painful withdrawal symptoms set in, causing most people to reach for the drug to make the pain go away.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Body aches.
  • The chills or shakes.
  • Delirium Tremens (DTS).

Psychological dependence

The psychological side of addiction represents the compulsion of the mind to drink or use based on a perceived need the substance fills.  This facet of addiction can occur even if the person doesn’t display physical dependency symptoms.

Psychological addiction is when a person is emotionally tied to a drug based on a mental desire for it. This is very common for people who use drugs that may not cause severe withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using.

For example, users of marijuana often do not think they’ve developed an addiction because they can physically go without using it. However, their mind creates an extreme desire for it that can negatively impact them in many ways causing loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, and changes in appetite.

How addiction affects the brain

DrugAbuse.gov offers an insightful explanation based on brain image studies from people addicted to drugs. The study found, physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical for judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control in addicted people. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of an addicted person.

In this case, addiction is demonstrated as both a mental, or psychological, and chemical, or physical, affect in the brain, thus providing evidence that addiction is both psychological and physical.

Not to mention, addictions are formed because they influence the part of the brain that controls pleasurable feelings—those creating a strong desire to recreate the pleasurable feelings associated with substances. Every single drug affects dopamine levels in the brain, creating the reward response, or formed need to keep suppling it with the substance.

This can even be true for food. When someone eats a piece of chocolate, the brain can find it very pleasurable and it stimulates the reward center in the brain. Because of this, a person is much more likely to want to eat chocolate regularly in the future. The same is true for drugs, which is how addictions are formed.

Getting treatment for addiction

Understanding both physical and psychological addiction, how they work and how they go hand-in-hand is important for treatment.

Those who have a physical dependence to a substance will likely be put into a medically supervised detoxification process at the beginning of their treatment program, which will help alleviate their withdrawal symptoms. From there, they move into addressing the underlying causes of their substance use, which is the psychological side of addiction.

Addiction does not have to control life any longer. Contact us at The Recovery Village to learn more about our treatment programs for substance use disorder. Our trained staff will help walk you through how you can get started on the road to recovery today and what to expect during your experience.

In this case, addiction is demonstrated as both a mental, or psychological, and chemical, or physical, affect in the brain, thus providing evidence that addiction is both psychological and physical.

Not to mention, addictions are formed because they influence the part of the brain that controls pleasurable feelings—those creating a strong desire to recreate the pleasurable feelings associated with substances. Every single drug affects dopamine levels in the brain, creating the reward response, or formed need to keep suppling it with the substance.

This can even be true for food. When someone eats a piece of chocolate, the brain can find it very pleasurable and it stimulates the reward center in the brain. Because of this, a person is much more likely to want to eat chocolate regularly in the future. The same is true for drugs, which is how addictions are formed.

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Behavioral Health Trends In The United States: 2014 National Survey On Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA, <https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf>, September 2015Physical Addiction or Psychological Addiction: Is There A Real Difference, Psychology Today, Dr. Adi Jaffe, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201007/physical-addiction-or-psychological-addiction-is-there-real>, July 2010The Science of Drug Abuse And Addiction: The Basics, DrugAbuse.gov, < https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction-basics>, October 2016
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Psychological and physical addiction: What’s the difference?
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Carly Benson

About Carly Benson

As an avid traveler, yogi & confessed self-help junkie, Carly writes about her adventures in life & sobriety on www.MiraclesAreBrewing.com where she offers inspirational concepts for enlightenment, spirituality, and embracing epicness.

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Psychological and physical addiction: What’s the difference? was last modified: February 8th, 2018 by The Recovery Village