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The main difference between physical and psychological dependences is that physical dependence means the body needs a substance for normal function to occur. Whereas psychological dependence means a person thinks or believes they need the drug to function normally. 

Your emotional processing plays a significant role in the development of a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder can be described as uncontrolled cravings for a substance or behavior, despite the negative consequences and attempts to quit.

Addiction can be a draining force on a person’s life, leading to financial, social, and personal strain. 22% of males and 17% of females used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year. Over 70,000 drug overdose deaths occur in the US annually. Consequently, the number of overdose deaths increases at an annual rate of 4.0%.

What Is a Dependence on Substances?

When physical dependence happens, the body adapts to chronic substance use. This is when regular doses of certain substances are required just to function. Physical withdrawal symptoms can occur if a person has stopped using these substances. Psychologically we become reliant on something that we know isn’t good for us, and it can be hard to stop.

These physical and psychological changes happen without regard to the choices you make as an individual because chemicals in your brain dictate these physical effects and feelings of dependency. 

For some people, substance use disorders spark from physical discomfort or physical pain. PTSD conditions such as those who have been victims of physical abuse might resort to recreational substance use as a coping mechanism. 

A substance use disorder can be developed from dependence, but dependence on a substance is not a physical disorder. When physical dependency has been reached, withdrawal symptoms often begin if use is discontinued abruptly. 

What Are Withdrawal Symptoms?

To understand physical vs. psychological dependence, it’s important to know what withdrawal symptoms are. 

For example, common physical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Psychosis

In contrast, physical dependence on a drug or substance comes the risk of abuse. Someone might use a substance on a more frequent basis than they intend. This is to avoid going through withdrawals while not realizing that physical dependency has formed over time.

What Is A Physical Dependence On Substances? 

Some signs that someone might be psychologically dependent on substances include using substances in larger amounts or for longer. The physical dependence on substances can be described as physical discomfort or physical need. 

It is more common for physical dependence to be associated with substance use disorders than it is for psychological dependence. Still, both physical and psychological factors are closely related to the development and extension of a substance use disorder. 

Physical dependence on substances can lead to withdrawal symptoms if the substances are stopped suddenly without any premeditation. Some people might even experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

What Is A Psychological Dependence On Substances? 

Psychological dependence on substances is a reliance on a drug or substance to provide a physical and psychological escape from reality. One of the most common examples of psychological addiction is people who suffer from anxiety disorders; They are more likely to become psychologically addicted to drugs that produce physical side effects.

Additionally, it is important to note that physical dependence does not always lead to psychological addiction and vice versa. Many people who are physically dependent on a substance do not suffer from any sort of psychological addiction. 

Likewise, many people who suffer from psychological addiction do not display any physical dependence on a substance. However, the two are often linked because it is much more difficult to break free from a psychological addiction if there is no physical dependence present. 

How Are They Similar and How Are They Different?

Psychological and physical dependence are similar in that they are both types of addictions. However, physical dependence is typically more physical, while psychological dependence is typically more psychological.

Some signs that someone might be physically dependent on substances include tolerance (the need to use more and more of the substance to get the desired effect), withdrawal symptoms (physical or emotional symptoms that occur when someone stops using a substance after using it for a period of time), and unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop using the substance.

Which Substances Are Associated in the Physical vs Psychological Dependence Debate?

The substances associated with both physical and psychological dependence are nicotine, opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines. These substances have been found to cause physical and psychological dependence in some people who use them.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This slows down the responses in the body but increases the euphoric feelings from a drink. Alcohol can be highly addictive, especially through binge drinking. Alcohol reacts to the GABA receptors in the brain, which are responsible for pleasurable sensations. With the absence of alcohol, a person may begin to experience side effects such as depression and anxiety. 

Nicotine is a popular substance that constricts the blood vessels and causes changes in a person’s heartbeat. The nicotine can be fixed for some, working as a stimulant drug. Nicotine speeds up the messages in the brain. Withdrawals from nicotine can occur if you’ve been using it for extended periods.

Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, serving as a way to calm the central nervous system. Despite popular belief, benzodiazepines can be addictive, especially when paired with other substances. A person can experience withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines if they begin to abuse the amounts.

Physical dependence is a state that can develop as a result of the regular use of certain substances. When someone is physically dependent on a substance, their body has adapted to the presence of the substance and needs it to function normally. 

This can lead to withdrawal symptoms if the person stops using the substance abruptly. Physical dependence is not the same thing as addiction, although physical dependence can be a sign that someone is addicted to a substance. 

The Stigmas Related to Substance Abuse

The stigmas related to substance abuse can cause a person to refuse treatment. Addiction is a complex disease that can manipulate the brain’s reward centers. When confronting the deepest parts of yourself to change, sobriety might seem like a distant reality. The price paid for not receiving treatment can be devastating. An overwhelming portion of recovering individuals suffers from mental health issues. 

Addiction is still recognized as a moral failure, but the perception has changed steadily. Sure, a person might have chosen to use a substance for the first time, but the addictive qualities can be suffocating. Many people use substances to self-medicate. Those who are diagnosed with substance use disorders don’t receive treatment.

Your support system can be the make or break of your recovery process. If your loved ones are shaming you for your substance use disorder, you might fall deeper into these uncomfortable feelings. It’s vital to embrace healthier coping mechanisms because psychological dependence can drive these compulsive behaviors.

What Treatments Are Available For Dependence On Substances?

The continuum of care was designed to provide quality care to patients at each stage of the recovery process. The continuum of care includes detoxification, medical management, and psychological treatment. Concerning physical dependence on substances, the medical model focuses primarily on physical symptoms of withdrawal.


Detoxification can be described as a process by which a person may remove physical symptoms experienced due to physical dependence on an addictive substance. Depending on the case, detox lasts between 7-10 days. The body accumulates the toxins from substance use and can prevent the person from attaining their recovery goals. 

Detoxification serves as the first response towards addiction treatment. This model of treatment is not for everyone and may be more beneficial to those with severe physical symptoms of withdrawal if they abruptly stop using their substance.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

If a patient does not require detox, medication-assisted treatment may be a solution for them. 

Medication-assisted treatment consists of prescribing a patient medication to help them with their physical dependence on the substance. Medication-assisted treatment is not for everyone and should be tailored to each patient. 

Treatment for psychological dependence may include therapy and/or medication. It is important to note that physical dependence and psychological dependence are not mutually exclusive. A person can be physically dependent on a substance and psychologically dependent on it, or vice versa. 


Psychotherapy is used to treat the behavioral elements of substance use disorders and mental health disorders. Through psychotherapy, individuals can identify the underlying causes of substance use to develop healthier coping mechanisms. Psychotherapy can include individual, group, and family therapy.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) have been effective treatment methods for addiction. CBT has been practiced to rewire the compulsive behaviors a person relies on to cope by observing the relationships between thoughts and actions. DBT is a modified approach that highlights the motivation to change and encourages change through precise action. 

Sober Living

Sober living homes are residences where people in recovery can live while they work on their sobriety. These homes provide a supportive environment where residents are encouraged to stay sober and participate in group therapy and other activities that promote physical and mental well-being. 

After Care

Aftercare is a critical part of addiction treatment and refers to the services and support that individuals receive after they complete a treatment program. Aftercare may include continuing therapy, attending 12-step meetings, and receiving sober living support.

Addiction is a complex disease that can be physical as well as psychological in nature. Physical dependence occurs when the body becomes reliant on a substance to function normally. This can happen after prolonged use of a drug or alcohol, or after withdrawal from the substance. 

Medication may be prescribed to help individuals with psychological dependence abstain from using substances. Medications used for this purpose include, but are not limited to, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. 

It is important to seek professional help if you are struggling with psychological dependence. Treatment options are available and can be tailored to meet your individual needs. With the help of a qualified therapist or doctor, you can overcome your addiction and live a healthier life.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is one of the most effective forms of treatment for psychological dependence. This type of treatment centers around physical and mental health, which both play an important role in addiction. Consequently, this is classified as a co-occurring disorder. This can be a valuable resource against chronic relapse. Relapse affects roughly 40-60% of people on the path of recovery.

Physical well-being is promoted through treatment because it helps individuals avoid physical withdrawal symptoms that would otherwise make them feel like they need to use addictive substances.

Individuals with physical dependence will require medically supervised detoxification before starting psychological dependence treatment. Detoxification should take place under the care of a medical professional who can monitor physical changes that occur during this process. 

As physical dependency is addressed, total focus is directed toward healing emotionally and mentally. This addresses psychological concerns such as anxiety or depression. If you are struggling with both and psychological dependencies, seek a dual diagnosis treatment.

Coastal Detox Awaits With Support

Psychological dependence on a substance can leave you in uncomfortable states. Physical dependence is a physical adaptation to repeated use of a substance that results in tolerance and physical symptoms if someone stops using the substance. 

The road to recovery demands that you embrace this change and find a solution for a healthier lifestyle. There are many resources available to you. There is no single cure for addiction, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for you. Coastal Detox aims to be the support you need. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, contact our facility today.