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Psychological vs. Physical Addiction: 10 Quick Facts

Addiction is a complex combination of physical and psychological factors that all add up to loss of control over a substance or behavior. Addiction psychology sheds light on what can be a confusing process, helping people better understand the dynamics that underlie addiction.

Here are some “at-a-glance” facts about the complex process of addiction and dependency.

  • The terms addiction and dependency are often used interchangeably. Becoming dependent on a substance is considered the same as becoming addicted to that substance.
  • Physical addiction is characterized by withdrawal – the process that occurs when you stop using or stop drinking. Withdrawal involves physical symptoms such as tremors or increased heart rate.
  • Building up a tolerance to a substance – needing increasingly larger amounts in order to obtain the same effect – is part of the process of developing an addiction.
  • Cravings – the strong urges to use, or feelings of longing for a drink or drug — have traditionally been understood as one aspect of psychological dependence.
  • The differences between physical and psychological dependence have become less clear as researchers in addiction psychology have increased their understanding of brain chemistry and the role of neurotransmitters. In short, this means even psychological aspects of addiction may have physical underpinnings.
  • Both physical and psychological dependence are treatable.
  • Treatment for physical and psychological dependence may include medication, psychotherapy, and self-help groups.
  • When learning about different substances and the potential for addiction, it is important to take into account both physical and psychological addictive potential. Some substances, such as marijuana, may have a very high potential for psychological dependence but very low potential for physical addiction. This does not make the substance any less dangerous to use, however.
  • According to researchers in addiction psychology, relapse prevention strategies are key in addressing the enduring aspects of psychological addiction.
  • Twelve-step groups, psychotherapy and a healthy lifestyle can help safeguard your recovery, regardless of whether you experienced physical addiction, psychological addiction or both.



“Physical Addiction or Psychological Addiction – Is There A Real Difference?” – Psychology Today

“Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide” (Third Edition) – National Institute on Drug Abuse

“Lexicon of Alcohol and Drug Terms” – World Health Organization

Posted on December 11th, 2017 in Blog

Editorial Staff

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Editorial Staff

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