Understanding the Psychological Dependence of Drug Addiction

Apr 2024 Understanding the Psychological Dependence of Drug Addiction

Psychological dependence of drug addiction can be the most difficult part of addiction. Addiction is an all-encompassing disorder that can affect how you think, feel, and act. To end your compulsive abuse of alcohol or another drug, it is important to address each of these concerns. Detox can help you get past the physical distress of withdrawal, while therapy can help you manage your psychological dependence and make essential behavioral changes.

Defining Psychological Dependence

The term “psychological dependence” refers to the mental and emotional aspects of addiction. It can encompass how the compulsion to abuse substances can affect cognition, self-esteem, confidence, mood, attitude, and other aspects of psychological health.

Virtually every type of addiction has physical and psychological components, though these elements rarely (if ever) achieve a 50/50 balance. For some people, the physical effects of substance use disorders are the hardest to overcome, while others find it more difficult to deal with the psychological impact of addiction and recovery.

Psychological vs. Physical Dependence

In discussions of addiction, it is impossible to completely separate physical and psychological dependence. 

When someone has become addicted to alcohol or another drug, their mood and mindset can sometimes have physical repercussions. At other times, the individual’s physical well-being (or lack thereof) can have a powerful influence on their state of mind. 

Here’s one example of how this mind-body connection relates to addiction and recovery: 

  • Drug cravings are common signs of addiction. 
  • This symptom may initially seem to be a type of psychological dependence – but overwhelming urges to ingest a certain substance can be prompted by the body’s (physical) response to the temporary absence of the substance.
  • So, do drug cravings represent physical or psychological dependence? 
  • In most cases, the answer is probably both. 

This is one of many reasons why addiction treatment providers often take a holistic approach. While it is important to acknowledge that substance use disorders impact the body as well as the mind, it isn’t necessary to divide treatment into distinct physical, psychological, and behavioral phases.

With that understanding, here are a few examples of how physical dependence on alcohol or other drugs can affect a person:

  • They need to use substances to keep their energy level up.
  • Their sleep/wake cycle is disrupted. They may need to use substances to help them wake up in the morning or get to sleep at night.
  • They use substances multiple times in a short period to forestall the physical “crash” that will occur once the drugs’ effects wear off.
  • When they try to stop using the substance, they experience nausea, abdominal cramping, and a host of other physical withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological dependence can manifest in the following ways:

  • They find it difficult to concentrate or focus when they’re not using substances.
  • They feel the need to use substances to cope with stress or deal with setbacks.
  • They find it virtually impossible to feel happy or experience pleasure without using substances.
  • They spend considerable amounts of time thinking about acquiring and using substances.
  • When they are prevented from using substance, or when they try to quit, they may struggle with agitation, irritability, anxiety, depression, and other psychological withdrawal symptoms.
  • They may believe that they’re not strong enough to end their substance use and make the changes that will support their successful recovery.

How is Psychological Dependence Treated?

Within a comprehensive, holistic treatment plan, psychological dependence on alcohol or other drugs is typically addressed via various forms of therapy. Depending on how a person has been affected by their struggles with compulsive substance abuse, here are a few examples of how therapy can help:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – This approach is based in part on the understanding that psychological distress can result from maladaptive thoughts, expectations, and judgments. CBT sessions can help patients identify unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, then guide them through the process of adopting healthier ways of thinking and acting.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – DBT sessions focus on helping patients develop or improve their skills in important areas such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Improved capabilities in these areas can be important steps in the effort to overcome psychological dependence.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy – Many people who become addicted to alcohol or other drugs have a history of untreated trauma. It is not uncommon for someone to turn to substance abuse in a misguided effort to numb themselves to this type of emotional pain. EMDR uses rapid, bilateral eye movements and focused guidance from a trained professional to help patients alleviate the psychological distress that is associated with specific traumatic memories. 

Contact Phoenix Rising to Treat Psychological Dependence for Drug Addiction

Phoenix Rising Recovery offers comprehensive, personalized services for adults who have become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol and other addictive substances. We also serve patients whose struggles with addictions are accompanied by certain co-occurring mental health concerns.

At our addiction treatment center in Southern California, your treatment may include residential care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and intensive outpatient program (IOP), and/or outpatient rehab. We also offer sober living homes if you would prefer to stay in a supportive residence while you are taking part in one of our outpatient options.

Our team will work closely with you to assess the full scope of your needs and identify the programs and services that will best prepare you for long-term recovery. We understand that everyone who develops an addiction is impacted in unique manner, and we are committed to providing you with a truly customized treatment experience.

To learn more about how we can help you, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.