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Is Psychological Dependence the Same as Being Addicted?

psychological dependence

Along with non-addicted substance abuse, addiction is the driving reason for seeking substance treatment. People affected by addiction commonly have an underlying condition called physical dependence. However, in addition to physical dependence, you may also experience a problem called psychological dependence. Interestingly, not all people who are psychologically dependent on a drug develop physical dependence or have diagnosable symptoms of physical addiction.

Physical Dependence and Addiction

When you repeatedly use a substance capable of triggering physical addiction, you make your brain susceptible to long-term changes in its chemical environment. Essentially, these changes cause your brain to treat the substance in question as an expected part of its day-to-day chemical mixture. Researchers, doctors and addiction specialists refer to this shift in expectations as physical dependence.

It’s crucial to note that you can grow physically dependent on a given substance without ever developing a problem with addiction. The prime example here is what happens to the brains of long-term users of opioid medications who strictly follow their prescriptions. Since opioids are addictive, these users have fairly high chances of developing physical dependence. However, proper management on the part of their doctors helps prevent this dependence from having a damaging effect on their health, well-being and daily function.

Physical addiction is an uncontrolled pattern of substance intake that does have a seriously damaging impact on your life. This impact results largely from prioritizing substance use over such essential things as:

  • Maintaining your personal and professional relationships
  • Fulfilling your personal, professional, social or academic obligations
  • Maintaining your health and safety, and
  • Maintaining the health and safety of others

As a rule, no one can ignore these essentials on an ongoing basis without experiencing severely negative consequences, or even potentially fatal consequences.

Differences in Psychological Dependence

Like people affected by physical addiction, people affected by psychological dependence make their substance use a daily priority. However, you can become psychologically dependent on a substance even if you never develop a physical dependence or addiction to it. In fact, you can become psychologically dependent on substances that don’t have the potential to produce physical dependence or addiction. So, while this dysfunctional mental state may essentially mimic the characteristics of addiction and lead to serious harm, doctors must treat it as a separate issue.



National Institute on Drug Abuse: DrugFacts – Understanding Drug Use and Addiction 

Australian Government Department of Health: Physical and Psychological Dependence 

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction?   

Posted on March 12, 2017 and modified on April 25, 2019

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