Updated on 2/1/2023

Content reviewed by Khelsea Walker

When people consider the various consequences of substance addiction, many recognize factors such as increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and chemical dependency. It is no surprise that when an individual uses substances with increasing frequency and intensity, they are more likely to experience an increase in tolerance as well as experience more intense withdrawal symptoms.

Drug tolerance and withdrawals can also be understood through substance dependence. Still, when people consider drug dependence, many only consider physical drug dependence. However, it is important to understand that physical and psychological processes are inevitably connected. When a person experiences physical drug dependence, they are likely to experience psychological drug dependence as well.

What is the difference between physical and psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol?

Physical dependence is a condition individuals who use alcohol or other drugs frequently or chronically may experience. It is characterized by unpleasant physical symptoms that occur when an individual stops taking a drug or takes lower doses of it than usual. These physical symptoms are a form of withdrawal symptoms, though it is important to note that withdrawal symptoms are not always solely physical.

Physical and psychological processes feed off of one another. In addition to physical symptoms, individuals will likely experience psychological withdrawal symptoms if they stop or wean off addictive substances. Psychological dependence, then, is a general term that describes the mental and emotional components associated with the development of addiction and substance use disorder (SUD).

Is psychological dependence on drugs as serious as physical dependence?

It is common for individuals to ponder whether or not psychological dependence is “as serious” as physical dependence. However, the question itself incorrectly separates and classifies each type of dependence as mutually exclusive. Not only are both types of dependencies serious and problematic, but they do not exist separately. If a person is struggling with what they believe to be physical withdrawal symptoms, they are likely also struggling with mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms.

Common withdrawal symptoms in early addiction treatment

When people are seeking recovery from substance use, they must be advised that they will likely experience a host of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The type and intensity of withdrawal symptoms are dependent on the type of substances used, the severity of their drug dependence, their personal health and other environmental and genetic factors.

There are a number of common withdrawal symptoms to look be aware of in yourself and others. These may include, but are not limited to:

Physical symptoms of withdrawal

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aches and pains
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

Psychological Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Cravings
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Issues with cognitive functioning
  • Believing one can control their substance use despite the consequences substance use has caused
  • Romanticizing or glorifying past drug use
  • Obsessing over obtaining or using substances

There is value in detoxification services

Because withdrawal symptoms, both physical and psychological, can be intense and are often uncomfortable, most people are unable to successfully achieve sobriety by withdrawing from substances without professional intervention. Professional detox services are essential because, without them, relapse is much more likely to occur.

Detox services help individuals seeking recovery from SUD safely and comfortably rid their bodies of substances. Detox is a three-step process that consists of professional evaluation, stabilization and preparation for long-term treatment. During the stabilization phase of detox, medication is often administered to individuals to ease intense withdrawal symptoms.

Treating psychological withdrawal and dependence

While the initial effects of physical withdrawal can be treated during detox, treating psychological withdrawal and dependence requires a long-term care process. It involves reversing brain changes caused by substance use which takes time, patience and practice. To recover from the psychological effects of substance use, individuals must be committed to a long-term treatment program.

Treatment will help individuals not only establish sobriety but also to identify and heal underlying causes that contributed to the development of their SUD. Effective treatment must also treat any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be present. Without treating the underlying causes or co-occurring conditions, an individual is more likely to fall back into old substance-using habits when they find themselves in stressful or otherwise difficult situations.

Treatment must also consist of various behavioral therapies. In individual therapy, patients learn to address the links between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In group therapy, participants learn new perspectives about substance use and recovery from their peers. The combination of individualized treatment and social support creates the best environment for ultimate healing and growth to occur.

Psychological dependence may be addressed throughout all avenues of treatment. Some specific therapies known to treat psychological dependence include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Treatment can also help patients establish relapse prevention skills in their life so that if future psychological withdrawal symptoms or cravings arise, the patient will be able to healthily resist their urges.

New Hope Ranch is a men’s addiction treatment facility that understands how challenging psychological dependence can be when seeking initial sobriety as well as long-term recovery. We believe in the use of various treatment modalities and holistic therapies to complement the recovery process. Psychological withdrawal is the result of recurrent substance use. Once you allow yourself to understand that your cravings are not you, you can feel motivated to achieve long-term recovery. To learn more about our treatment facility, or to learn more about psychological dependence, give us a call at (737) 600-8565.