When people think of addictions to drugs or alcohol, they often consider the physical impacts of substance use. This is entirely understandable as the physical effects of anything are easier to spot. Substance use of any kind can and usually does lead to various physical effects on the user, some of which can be difficult to heal or reverse even after getting sober at an addiction treatment program like the Hills in Los Angeles, California.
Addiction is a disease with wide-reaching effects. Although the physical impacts are significant and challenging to manage, addiction also has a psychological impact on the user. These effects, referred to as psychological dependence, are the emotional or mental health-related components of substance use disorders. It is psychological dependence that produces the overwhelming cravings to continue using despite known harmful consequences. Cravings are often unmanageable without treatment and are the hallmark sign of a substance use disorder
Many people are unfamiliar with psychological dependence. Below are a few important facts about psychological dependence that you may not know.
Psychological Dependence and Addiction Are Not the Same Things
Sometimes the terms psychological dependence and psychological addiction are used interchangeably. Although this is common, it is essential to know they are not one and the same.
Dependence is a process. When someone develops a dependence or dependency on a substance like drugs or alcohol, their mind and body become reliant (dependent) on that substance. If they are not drinking or using, they struggle to function adequately or “feel” a certain way. Dependence grows out of ongoing and increasing substance use. Once someone has developed a psychological addiction to a substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to reduce or stop using that substance.
Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease. It is a disorder that affects the structure and function of the brain. Addiction itself has both psychological (compulsions to use and cravings) and physical symptoms, although sometimes it can be challenging to differentiate between the two.
When people talk about psychological “addiction,” they are often referring to dependency on a substance, not an addiction to the substance. However, it is important to keep in mind that the terms are used in varying ways and interchangeably throughout the medical and mental health communities to describe wide-ranging degrees of reliance on drugs or alcohol. To help minimize confusion related to the two terms, the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the fifth edition), or the DSM removed the separate classifications for diagnoses of “substance dependence” and “substance abuse.” The two individual diagnoses were combined into one – substance use disorder- which is diagnosed on a range from mild to severe depending on the presence of or lack of eleven diagnostic criteria.
It is Possible to Be Physically Dependent but Not Psychologically Dependent
Physical dependence occurs when your body relies on a substance to function adequately. A key symptom of dependency is withdrawal. It is not necessary to experience significant, overwhelming, or dangerous withdrawal symptoms to be physically dependent. A good way to look at it is by considering the relationship that millions of Americans have with caffeinated beverages.
If a person wakes up each day and consumes an energy drink (or an espresso or coffee) to jump start their day, they will eventually become dependent on that jolt of caffeine to get their day started. Whether it’s a workday, weekend, or even on vacation, caffeine becomes necessary to function at optimal levels. Should they decide to forgo caffeine for the day, they will likely have an unpleasant headache and feel worn out and lethargic by the time lunchtime rolls around. This is physical dependence. Your body “needs” caffeine to operate properly, and without it, you experience symptoms of withdrawal.
If you are psychologically dependent on caffeine but not physically dependent, you will not experience physical symptoms if you do not consume a caffeinated beverage. For example, let’s say you forget to prep the coffee maker, or you are running late to an important meeting and do not have time to stop at the store on your way to work. Although you don’t drink caffeine every day, you had hoped for the extra push on a particular morning. Although you may feel a moment of panic because you have something important to accomplish and are concerned about how you will achieve your goals without caffeine, you will not feel withdrawal symptoms because your body does not “need” caffeine.
Although it is possible to have either psychological or physical dependence, it is possible to have both as well. This is often the case with substance use disorders. It is also why overcoming addiction without seeking help at an addiction treatment center can be challenging. Not only does one experience the physical challenges of detox and withdrawal, but one must also overcome the psychological challenges of psychological dependency on drugs or alcohol. Often, it is the inability to overcome difficult cravings that lead someone new to sobriety to relapse.
Psychological Dependency Can Lead to Withdrawal
Again, when people think of withdrawal, they commonly think of the detox process and the physical symptoms associated with overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Without medically assisted treatment, withdrawing from certain substances such as alcohol or opioids can be dangerous and, in some cases, life-threatening. In other cases, withdrawal symptoms are mild and can often be overcome with minimal medical supervision. However, psychological withdrawal is not the only type of withdrawal someone can experience when trying to get sober.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms are those that occur when the body begins to crave substances. Again, these are not physical. They do not include tremors, nausea, vomiting, or headaches. They include other mental health symptoms such as fear, panic, and anxiety. A typical example of psychological withdrawal is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. PAWS is the set of psychological symptoms that can last for weeks or months after you stop using. It is sometimes referred to as post-withdrawal syndrome, prolonged withdrawal syndrome, or protracted withdrawal syndrome. Common symptoms of PAWS include those that are typically associated with other mood and anxiety disorders. Typical examples may be difficulties sleeping, increased anxiety, mood swings, depression, and other new or worsening mental health symptoms.
PAWS often occurs after withdrawal from alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines, although it is not limited to these substances. Studies on PAWS indicate as many as 90% of opioid users and 75% of alcohol and psychoactive substance users will experience PAWS.
Certain Drugs Are Frequently Linked to Psychological Dependence
Not all drugs are linked to physical dependence. However, this does not mean it is not possible to develop a strong psychological dependence on the same substances. Psychological dependence frequently develops with the use of psychoactive drugs. Common examples include marijuana, LSD, Cocaine, “magic” mushrooms, and inhalants. Other drugs with a strong link to psychological dependence and physical dependence include alcohol, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium, etc.), and opioids (heroin, morphine, etc.).
Treating Psychological Dependence is Possible
Treating psychical dependence, although often unpleasant, is generally safely and successfully accomplished at a medically supervised addiction treatment program like the Hills in Los Angeles. Detoxing from physical dependence in a supervised setting helps to ensure that the addicted individual can detox from substances in a healthy and safe manner. It also ensures that trained medical staff is on-site should any severe or dangerous potential side effects associated with withdrawal and detox occur.
Treating psychological dependence is a bit more complicated. In some cases, the psychological symptoms of addiction may resolve on their own once the physical dependence is treated. In many cases, though, treatment requires working with a therapist and addressing the symptoms of psychological dependence, whether it occurs on its own or co-occurs with physical dependence. Treatment for psychological addiction includes evidence-based therapies designed to help addicts in recovery understand the roots of their addiction. Therapy for psychological dependence can take place in either outpatient or inpatient residential settings. During therapy, you will learn more about the behaviors that lead to addiction while developing and practicing new, healthier coping strategies to use when faced with triggers after treatment ends.
Choosing to seek addiction treatment is the first step on a journey to sobriety. When someone struggles with a psychological addiction, it is possible they may not realize the impacts of their struggle with alcohol or drugs until they experience difficult to manage symptoms when they do not use. Psychological dependence is associated with numerous emotional and cognitive symptoms that are triggered when one stops using the substance. Whether your dependence is physical, psychological, or both, the most successful treatment outcomes are achieved through comprehensive, holistic treatment that considers your unique treatment needs and goals.
At the Hills in Los Angeles, we understand that the decision to seek treatment is the difficult yet most valuable first step on the road to recovery. Our luxury treatment center provides specialized treatment programs that support both the addicted person and their loved ones throughout the entire course of treatment and recovery, beginning with supported detox and continuing through comprehensive aftercare planning. At our luxury treatment center in Los Angles, we work with each patient to develop a thorough detox and therapy plan that addresses their unique needs and goals. Because addiction is a disease unique to the individual, each treatment plan must be equally as unique.
If you or a loved one are ready to get sober and overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, contact our Los Angeles rehab today. Let our admission team answer your questions about how treatment at The Hills can help you overcome drug and alcohol dependency.