Psychological dependence is the term used to describe the emotional or psychological components of a substance use disorder. These mental components often include intense cravings for the substance or behavior and a profound difficulty associated with thinking about anything else. Psychological dependence is also sometimes referred to as psychological addiction. Although the terms dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably, they do not necessarily mean the same thing. Dependence refers to the process by which your body and mind come to depend on a substance to achieve a specific feeling or “high.” Dependence often results in withdrawal symptoms when you stop using a substance.
On the other hand, addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive substance use despite adverse outcomes. Addiction is a complex condition with both physical and emotional elements. When the term psychological addiction is used, it is often in reference to psychological dependence, not addiction.
What are the Symptoms of Psychological Dependence?
As with many signs and symptoms of addiction, the symptoms of psychological dependence will vary from person to person. There are, however, a few common elements that tend to present in most cases. The most prevalent common symptom is the belief that substances are necessary to do or achieve certain things. For example, those with a psychological dependence on substances will feel as though they cannot sleep, socialize, or function adequately without using. Psychological dependence will also result in intense cravings for the substance or spending an excessive amount of time thinking about it. These thoughts can revolve around using or obtaining the substance.
How Does Psychological Dependence Compare to Physical Dependence?
Physical dependence is what occurs when your body starts to rely on a substance to function. When someone is physically dependent, and they stop using the substance, they will experience the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal can occur with or without a psychological dependence. Different from physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms from psychological dependence are not generally those that cause physical discomfort. Some of those common symptoms one might experience if they are psychologically dependent include anxiety, restlessness, uneasiness, depression, and overall dissatisfaction with life.
How Does Psychological Dependence Occur?
Physical dependence is a condition that affects how the body responds to either having or not having a particular substance. Mental or psychological dependence affects people’s emotions as opposed to their physical bodies. Psychological dependence involves mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms when individuals cannot take or stop taking their drug of choice. For note, people can also develop emotional dependence or psychological addiction to activities. For example, those with a sex addiction feel these intense emotional withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have sex or do not have access to activities or behaviors that satisfy their need for sexual content or sexual contact.
In general, psychological dependence develops in much the same way as physical dependence. Those who develop it do so after continued exposure to a particular stimulus such as ongoing substance or alcohol abuse. Unlike physical dependence, however, people with a psychological dependence on a substance do not always experience symptoms that are outwardly obvious to those around them. Some will adapt or hide their feelings, such as anxiety and depression that occur when they don’t engage in their stimulus or activity of choice.
Substances Commonly Associated with Psychological and Physical Dependence
In reality, all substances of abuse are associated with both psychological and physical elements of dependence. However, many studies and resources separate the aspects of developing a substance use disorder and the withdrawal and detox process into substances associated primarily with psychological withdrawal symptoms. Substances that tend to lead to psychological symptoms generally include most stimulants such as cocaine and Ritalin, most hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, cannabis products, most inhalants, and many psychotropic medications, including commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. Again, while these substances can produce symptoms associated with physical addiction, their withdrawal symptoms and addiction-related behaviors tend to lean more towards psychological dependence. In terms of physical addiction, substances such as alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are more commonly associated with the development of a strong physical dependence; however, again, psychological dependence can also develop from the use of these substances.
Can Physical Dependence Lead to Withdrawal?
When people hear the word withdrawal, they tend to think of the classic symptoms associated with the body detoxing from substances like alcohol or opioids. These are the images commonly seen on television or in the movies. When detox from these substances occurs without medical supervision, withdrawal can lead to severe and even life-threatening symptoms in some cases.
Other withdrawal symptoms, common under many circumstances of detox, are typically just uncomfortable to deal with. Depending on the individual, however, psychological dependence can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, as mentioned above. For some individuals, detoxing from a long-term substance abuse disorder can lead to feelings of panic, anxiety, and fear associated with not being able to obtain the substance, not using, or not being able to “high” without using substances. Furthermore, some individuals may experience both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms making medically assisted detox at a substance abuse treatment facility like The Hills in Los Angeles vital to their treatment success and ability to attain and maintain sobriety.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is another example of psychological withdrawal. It is a condition that sometimes occurs after the symptoms of physical withdrawal have subsided. Some studies suggest nearly 90% of people recovering from an opioid addiction and 75% of people recovering from an alcohol addiction or other substance addictions will have symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome are generally more psychological in nature than the symptoms of physical withdrawal. Some of the more common symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, mood swings, cognitive issues such as memory problems difficulties making decisions or difficulties concentrating, depression and anxiety, reduced energy levels, difficulty managing stress and trouble with personal relationships. While the symptoms of physical withdrawal typically last between three and seven days, depending on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and the duration of the substance abuse disorder, psychological withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks or even months. Also, post-acute withdrawal syndrome symptoms can range from mild to severe and even debilitating in some cases. For some individuals experiencing psychological withdrawal, there may be a period where their symptoms improve but then continue to fluctuate and intensify when they’re under varying degrees of stress.
Treating Psychological Dependence
Although the process is sometimes difficult and notably unpleasant, treating pure physical dependence is a pretty straightforward process. The best approach typically involves working with the highly trained staff at a professional treatment facility such as The Hills in Los Angeles. Detox in a supervised treatment setting, also known as medically assisted detox, 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.
Unfortunately, treating psychological dependence is a bit more complicated. For many struggling with both a physical and psychological dependence, their addiction’s psychological elements sometimes 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.
Therapy for psychological dependence can take place in either outpatient or inpatient residential settings. During therapy, patients will explore behavior patterns and environmental situations that trigger their use and work to create new patterns of thought and behavior.
Understanding substance use disorders can be difficult. This is not just because they are sensitive and highly stigmatized topics but because there are many terms involved that, while related in some way, often mean different things. Psychological dependence is associated with numerous emotional and cognitive symptoms that are triggered when one stops using the substance. Conversely, physical dependence is related to the development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms that are not primarily emotional or cognitive in nature. Regardless of the “type” of addictive behavior, treatment should be holistic in their design and consider that each individual faces addiction differently. For these reasons, one singular treatment method is not guaranteed to be suitable for everyone seeking substance abuse treatment.
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. Our 24-hour fully staffed supervised treatment program located in California’s beautiful Hollywood Hills area offers impatient individualized treatment comprised of therapy, counseling color medication support, health, and Wellness end meals provided vital chef. In addition, we offer alternative, complementary healing therapies, including yoga and massage.
If you or a loved one struggles with substance dependence, be it psychological, physical, or both, don’t wait to take the next step towards treatment. Addiction doesn’t take a day off, and research has shown that, in almost every case, early intervention is key to successful treatment and ongoing recovery. If you are curious about how the addiction treatment team at The Hills may be able to help you defeat your addiction contact us today and speak to an admissions advisor. If you are wondering what rehab at The Hills looks like, please call to schedule a tour of our beautiful facility located just outside of Los Angeles. Can’t arrange an in-person visit? Click here for an online photo tour of our world-class facilities.