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ADDICTION: Is It All in My Mind?

A long-held belief for many, being truly addicted requires that a person be both psychologically AND physically hooked. In other words, there must be a craving as well as physical discomfort. This is not always the case. It can be one OR the other as well as BOTH.


The body reacts differently to different types of drugs than the brain does. For example, alcohol and heroin, affect us in a different way than do stimulants, like cocaine and meth. For example, when a person abstains from alcohol there will be a physical withdrawal in the form of shakiness and nausea and there will also be the psychological withdrawal of desire for another drink. With stimulants, such as cocaine, a person will only experience psychological withdrawal upon stopping. Therefore, physical and psychological reactions to substances are not universal across the board. Using the lack of one or the other as an indicator of addiction can often lead the person to believe they do not have a problem. Even if the substance is not producing physical effects, it should not be considered less addictive.

Psychological vs Physical

Physical Addiction

When your body’s cells can’t function without a substance or drug, you have become physically dependent. Once the body starts to become depleted of the substance, painful withdrawal symptoms kick in. And since the quickest way to ease the pain is to take more drugs, most of those who try to quit “cold turkey” are unable to do so. Some typical withdrawal symptoms brought on by a physical addiction can include tremors or “shakes,” nausea, diarrhea, chills and body aches.

Psychological Addiction

A psychological addiction is defined as a perceived need to use. For example, someone addicted to marijuana might think they have to have the drug in order to fall asleep quickly and peacefully. However, they will eventually fall asleep without the drug…and they’ll do so without ever experiencing the physical effects of withdrawal. In severe cases of psychological addiction, these thoughts become all-consuming. Without help, a psychological dependency can transform a drug of choice into your central focus of life.

Treatment for Physical vs Psychological

When it comes to treatment methods for physical and psychological addictions, they are conducted separately, yet still go hand-in-hand. Physical addiction is typically addressed through a medically supervised detoxification that can last anywhere from a few days to a week. As you are slowly weaned off your substance of choice, you don’t experience the negative physical symptoms typically associated with withdrawal.

With the right tools, whatever your addiction may be, you can overcome it.

When the physical process is complete, treatment for psychological addiction begins. Because detox doesn’t address underlying desires to use, inpatient treatment programs are recommended in order to learn how to handle the inevitable temptation to relapse. Therapy sessions, relapse prevention plans, holistic practices and coping techniques used during rehab are all essential to living a sober life. Carrying these tools with you as you traverse the world anew will help you maintain your sobriety.