Some substances, such as inhalants and cannabis products, don’t actually contain any neurochemical addictive properties – so how do people become addicted to them all the same?
Most are familiar with what physical addiction looks like, but the severity of psychological addiction is often overlooked.
Just because a substance doesn’t contain any physically addictive ingredients or cause physical symptoms of withdrawal doesn’t mean that it can’t be just as addictive—or difficult to resist.
Physical Addiction vs Psychological Addiction
Before we determine what are typically considered distinguishing features of physical and psychological addiction, it is first important to establish that physical vs psychological addiction is not a binary.
Your brain and body are interconnected—one influences the other.
The cognitive actions you take affect the physical process of the body, just as the mental side of things is affected by the chemicals and physical neuro-responses of the brain.
That said, there are several key factors that differentiate psychological vs physical dependence in the classic sense.
Physical addiction is typically linked to substances that contain addictive chemicals, such as nicotine and caffeine. These addictions lead to physical symptoms – such as trembling or pain when the substance is deprived.
Physical addictions also manifest physical symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal from some drugs, such at methamphetamines, can even cause seizures.
In terms of a psychological dependence definition, then, this form of addiction doesn’t display the same physical need and reactions to substances, but that doesn’t make these types of addictions any less potent.
Psychological addiction can occur with essentially any substance.
Psychological addictions tend to occur because of a substance or experience activating the pleasure center in the brain, which causes you to want to recreate those same pleasurable feelings in the same way.
The biology of the brain, therefore, has a great effect on the formation of psychological addictions – more on this below.
While psychological addiction does not manifest itself with the same physical desires and symptoms of withdrawal, resisting a mental addiction can be just as difficult and the habits just as detrimental.
How Psychological Addiction Occurs
So, what exactly is all this biology we’ve been referencing when it comes to forming a psychological addiction? And what does it mean in the context of drug addiction psychology?
When you take a substance or engage in an activity that causes pleasure, the nucleus accumbens is activated in your brain. This part of the brain controls feelings of pleasure as well as gives you the desire to recreate these feelings—essentially leading to the formation of psychological addiction.
You can essentially gain a psychological addiction to any substance, therefore. This includes drugs such as marijuana that are often marketed as non-addictive.
Psychological addictions are often found hand-in-hand with other mental disorders that leave people more susceptible to forming an addiction. Some people are also found to have addictive personalities, or genetic predispositions that make them more likely to form an addiction.
Psychological addictions can be just as detrimental to your everyday life and behavior as a physical addiction.
Common Drugs that Cause Physical Addiction vs Psychological Addiction
Let’s take a quick look at some common drugs and substances most frequently associated with physical and psychological addictions.
Drugs Associated with Physical Addictions
These drugs are known for containing addictive chemicals and properties. A physical addiction to any of these typically involves physical symptoms and trembling for a fix, as well as severe physical withdrawal.
- Opiates (heroin, morphine, etc.)
- Barbiturates (phenobarbital, Seconal)
- Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, etc.)
Drugs Associated with Psychological Addictions
As we stated above, a psychological addiction can form in relation to practically any substance. There are some substances, however, that tend to lend themselves to psychological addiction very easily:
- Cannabis products (marijuana, etc.)
- Psychotropic medications (antidepressants)
- Hallucinogenic drugs (LSD)
- Stimulants (cocaine, Ritalin)
What Psychological Addiction Looks Like
Symptoms of psychological addiction include, but are not limited to:
- Denial of a substance abuse problem
- Romanticizing a substance abuse problem.
- Anxiety when trying to quit or deprived of the substance
- Feelings of depressions when trying to quit or deprived of the substance
- Irritability or restlessness when not using the substance
- Cognitive issues, including concentration, memory, and judgment
- Mood swings
- Obsessing over the substance
- Appetite loss/increased appetite when not using the substance
- Change in sleep patterns when not using the substance
What Withdrawal Looks Like and How to Get Help
Symptoms of withdrawal associated with psychological addictions typically include many of those listed above. Those in withdrawal will likely experience moods swings, irritability, difficulty focusing, and general feelings of anxiety.
What Type of Help You Should Seek
While the extreme physical processes of physical addictions often require that you seek help at a rehabilitation center, primarily psychological addictions can often be treated without seeking out a center.
Rather, you should consult with a therapist, who can help you create effective strategies for overcoming addiction and the behaviors that lead you to it. Seeking the aid of support groups can also be an effective method for fighting against psychological addictions.
If you find yourself struggling with a heavily joint physical and psychological addiction, you should definitely seek professional help. Physical addictions in particular often include a heavy mental component, the user mentally desiring the substance in addition to physically requiring it.
Holistic drug rehabilitation programs address all aspects of addiction, from the physical to the psychological, making these programs invaluable to recovering addicts.
How Las Encinas Hospital Can Help
If you live in the Pasadena, California area and are struggling from addiction, Las Encinas Hospital can help. We are a behavior health hospital, focusing on the ways in which psychological and behavior-training programs can improve lives.