Psychological Dependence & Addiction-Two Sides of the Same Coin

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The terms addiction, chemical dependence, and psychological dependence are often used interchangeably. In reality, addiction and psychological dependence are quite similar. Psychological dependence describes the psychological (or emotional) components of substance use disorder. These elements include cravings or behaviors that occur around the perceived need to use a substance. Psychological dependence is also sometimes referred to as psychological addiction. When someone experiences cravings or urges to drink or use that are so overwhelming it interferes with their day-to-day life, an addiction has developed.

Although addiction and dependence are incredibly similar, there are differences between the two. Dependence refers to the process by which your body and mind begin to depend on a substance to achieve a specific feeling. If you are dependent on a substance and you stop using, withdrawal symptoms often develop. On the other hand, addiction is a disease characterized by brain changes and compulsive substance use despite adverse incomes. When discussing psychological addiction, it is often about psychological dependence on a substance, not necessarily the physical components and actual changes to the brain that occur with addiction.

Psychological Dependence vs. Physical Dependence

To understand psychological dependence and its relationship to addiction, it is first necessary to note how psychological dependence differs from physical dependence. Physical dependence is the process that occurs when your body starts to rely on a substance to function and complete day-to-day tasks. When you are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol and reduce use or stop using entirely, you will experience physical symptoms of withdrawal. Physical symptoms can occur with or without psychological dependence. Physical symptoms differ from psychological symptoms. Physical withdrawal symptoms cause physical discomforts such as muscle aches, joint pain, headache, stomach upset, and others that affect or are affected by how drugs or alcohol affect your body physically.

Understanding Psychological Dependence

As opposed to imparting effects on your physical body and functions, psychological dependence (sometimes called mental dependence or emotional dependence) affects your emotions, mental health, and psychological well-being. When someone struggling with a psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol seeks addiction treatment at The Hills, they will experience mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms resulting from reducing or stopping the substance use. Psychological dependence typically develops in the same way as physical dependence. Those who experience psychological dependence develop a dependence on their substance of choice after continued exposure to a particular drug or chronic excessive drinking; however, unlike psychical dependence, someone who experiences psychological dependence on a substance may not develop outwardly visible symptoms to friends and loved ones. Some will adapt their use to hide the psychological symptoms and emotions such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and anger when they cannot drink or use.

The signs and symptoms of physical dependence will vary from person to person, as each person who struggles with addiction will do so in a unique way. Despite the individual nature of dependence, there are a few symptoms that will present across most cases. The most prevalent (and telling) indicator of psychological dependence is the deeply rooted belief that substances such as drugs or alcohol are critical to accomplishing or achieving certain things. For example, suppose you have a psychological dependence on substances. In that case, you will believe (or feel as though) you cannot sleep, function adequately, socialize with loved ones or peers, or complete your day-to-day obligations and tasks without using or drinking. Psychological dependence will also result in intense cravings for your substance of choice. These cravings are often satisfied by a drug-seeking behavior, such as spending significant amounts of time thinking about the substance, seeking ways to obtain the substance, or utilizing relationships with friends or loved ones to get the substance. This intense focus on obtaining or using your substance of choice will, in time, interfere with your day-to-day activities, family obligations, work obligations, or in some cases even interfere with life-sustaining functions such as personal hygiene or seeking essential medical care.

What is Addiction?

Today, addiction is commonly referred to as a substance use disorder within the medical and mental health community. The definition of addiction is complex. Like many other chronic, relapsing, debilitating illnesses, addiction is, in fact, a disease. Addiction is characterized by the strong compulsion to obtain and use substances, despite knowing and understanding their use is associated with adverse and potentially dangerous consequences. Addiction is also defined by some medical providers or addiction treatment professionals as “a mental health disorder that affects the brain and changes behavior.” Addiction does not develop solely out of the use of illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine, or other “street drugs.” It can develop through the use of various legally prescribed medications, including prescription pain medications, drugs used to treat the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety medications, and others. For some, addiction to over-the-counter medications also results in the need for professional addiction treatment at a Los Angeles treatment center like The Hills.

The view society has on addiction and addiction treatment continues to evolve. Today, addiction is considered a disease, not a moral failing or voluntary choice. Many prominent organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), describe addiction as a disease due to how it impacts the brain. When you struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, using those substances changes how the brain responds to stimuli, both positive and negative. Ongoing use of certain substances also results in physical changes to the structure and function of the brain. The brain’s areas responsible for reward, judgment, learning, memory, and motivation are all impacted to various degrees by substance use. In some instances, especially those of long-term drug use or excessive alcohol use, the brain’s reward centers are physically changed to the degree that makes it nearly impossible for the user to experience feelings of joy, pleasure, or happiness unless they are using. Due to these changes’ functional nature, some addicts in recovery may experience ongoing challenges well beyond the treatment. It is also believed that specific brain changes may leave addicts in recovery increasingly vulnerable to triggers, increasing the possibility of relapse even after completing a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

The Relationship Between Psychological Dependence and Addiction

It can be challenging to understand the relationship between addiction and dependence. Although they are indeed similar, and some organizations and treatment providers use the terms interchangeably, there are subtle differences that should be acknowledged. The term dependence is often used to describe a reliance on a substance. In terms of a psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol, the terms are used to describe circumstances where withdrawal symptoms will result should you choose or want to stop using. Psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol indicates your brain has developed an emotional (mental) tolerance to your substance of choice, and you feel as though you must use it to function properly. However, unlike physical addiction, you would not experience physical withdrawal symptoms, and those closest to you may overlook your dependency on substances.

Addiction is also characterized by a “need” to use, but the root causes behind this perceived need are different. Addiction is characterized by changes in behavior due to biological and chemical changes that occur to the brain. Addiction is both the physical and psychological reliance on drugs or alcohol.

The relationship between psychological dependence and addiction can, for the most part, be summed up as follows.

One can have a psychological dependence on a particular substance without addiction, although dependences often lead to addiction.

Treating Psychological Dependence and Addiction

Acknowledging the difference between psychological dependence and addiction can help better understand the effects of each. Both addiction and psychological dependence are treatable with adequate, comprehensive treatment programs such as those at The Hills. Also, the process for beginning treatment is quite similar. For most, the treatment process will begin with detox. Detox is an essential first step as it is not possible to fully immerse yourself in the therapy process while still craving substances. Medically assisted detox occurs in a supervised setting. Supervision is beneficial as it ensures you are physically and emotionally supported throughout the detox process. It also ensures that trained medical staff is on-site to provide medical assistance should any severe or dangerous potential side effects associated with withdrawal from specific substances occur.

Once detox is complete, you can transition to the therapeutic portion of addiction treatment. Treatment will require working with a therapist to address the symptoms of dependence and addiction. Because the two are closely related, the treatment models used in the treatment are similar. Therapy for dependence and addiction involves using traditional therapy models such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), or various other forms of psychotherapy to explore behavior patterns and environmental situations that trigger substance use and working to create new patterns of thought and behavior.

Whether psychological dependence or addiction, each person who enters treatment will face a different journey to sobriety. It is essential for each treatment program to address the unique nature of the individual patient’s struggle. At The Hills in Los Angeles, our treatment providers will work with you to create a holistic treatment plan designed around your specific treatment needs and goals. We understand the decision to seek treatment is challenging. Our highly trained team is here to provide comprehensive support and guidance throughout all stages of your treatment and recovery journey. At our luxury Los Angeles treatment center, you will have access to 24-hour care and medical, emotional, and holistic support.

If you or a loved one struggles with a negative relationship with drugs or alcohol, there will never be a better day than today to break the cycle of use. Reach out to the admissions team at The Hills today to learn more about our programs or schedule a tour of our beautiful Los Angeles area treatment facility.

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