Physical Versus Psychological Addiction

Addiction includes more than substance dependency. The term encompasses behaviors as well. Addiction is present when a person has lost control over their use of a substance or their own actions. When a person’s thoughts become consumed with using or behaving to the extent that most of their mental and physical energy is spent pursuing those things, the person is likely addicted to a substance or behavior. Sometimes the addiction is a physical one and sometimes the problem is psychological. For some people, addiction is both psychological and physical. Physical addiction occurs when a person repeatedly introduces a chemical into their body and, over time, the body becomes dependent upon the chemical. The body is wonderfully designed to compensate for these outside chemicals. With enough exposure, the body is able to adjust its own chemical reactions to counterbalance them. Soon the body no longer reacts strongly to the introduction of the substance because it has created a tolerance. This amazing ability of the body to accommodate can actually drive addiction because the person usually winds up using ever-increasing amounts of the substance in order to feel the same (initial) responses. In the end, the body will become dependent on the substance. Physical addiction means the person will feel an intense physical reaction whenever the substance is removed or is absent. This reaction is known as withdrawal and lasts until the body recognizes its need to make another adjustment. Psychological addiction refers to the person’s mental or emotional attachment to a substance or behavior. The person feels a strong compulsion to engage in the behavior or substance use and will feel agitated and anxious if they cannot. The relationship is not biological but is psychological. That is not to say that a person addicted to gambling, pornography or video games are any less driven. Marijuana use proponents regularly suggest that the drug does not create a physical dependency; however, the psychological attachment to smoking marijuana is undeniable. In many cases, both physical and psychological addiction is present. The person develops a physical need and an emotional need to continue their habit. Especially with substance abuse, the person may require help with detox, the getting past initial physical withdrawal symptoms. That is followed by a period of counseling and/or therapy that deals with the psychological addiction. Behavioral addictions usually require cognitive therapies rather than biological aid and treatment. If you wonder whether you or a loved one has become addicted, here are a few signs to look for:

  • Preoccupation with the substance or behavior
  • Using more of the substance or spending more time engaging in the behavior in order to get the same result
  • Hiding substance abuse or behavior
  • Using the substance or behavior as a means of escaping or relaxing
  • You attempt to cut back but find that you cannot.

Regardless of whether the person is physically or psychologically addicted, recovery is possible. It will probably require the help of an outside person. Once you recognize the symptoms in either yourself or someone you care about, the most important thing to do is to ask for help.

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