The Difference between Physical Addiction and Psychological Addiction

Written by Robert Castan | Edited By Editorial Team

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When you’re talking about drug and alcohol addiction, many people will often refer to the physical and psychological aspects of their addiction. While they often go hand in hand, there are key differences to each type of addiction and their effects on the body and brain. Let’s take a look at what the differences between physical addiction and psychological addiction are and the best ways to treat them so that the patient can live a sober life.

What is Physical Addiction?

Just as it sounds, a physical addiction has to do with how a drug affects the body and its functions. When someone has a physical addiction to a substance their body gets physically sick and they feel pain when they don’t get the drug their body craves so their body goes through withdrawal symptoms. This is most often referred to as drug or alcohol dependence. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Moodiness
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea

Withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, which can be life-threatening. Because the withdrawal symptoms can become so severe in some people, those addicted will stop at nothing to get their drug of choice to stop the withdrawal symptoms.


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What is Psychological Addiction?

When you talk about a psychological addiction, you’re talking about the drug’s effect on the brain. Some people debate the difference between physical and psychological addiction since the brain is part of the body. But, the psychological addiction focuses on how your brain tells your body it desires the euphoric effect.

As people become addicted to a drug, the drug affects dopamine levels in the brain, giving you that euphoric feeling. Drugs also impact the brain and the parts that control judgment, learning, memory, and behavior. When the brain is no longer getting that drug and its effect, the following can happen:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Cravings

Cravings are an especially dangerous part of the psychological addiction because they can have extremely damaging effects as the body desperately wants the substance it’s no longer getting. Without proper professional help, cravings can lead a person to relapse.

Treating Physical Addiction

There are certain methods that work better to treat physical addiction versus psychological addiction. When there are signs of physical addiction, a detox program is usually the first step. A detox program is done under the supervision of a trained medical staff that can help with the pain and withdrawal symptoms detox can have on the body.

The length of the detox program will depend on the type of drug being abused and how much of the drug is in someone’s system. Since everyone’s body responds differently, detox will be different for each patient.

Detox is an important part of becoming sober because trying to quit on your own or going “cold turkey” can have damaging effects on the body and increase your chance of relapse. Completing a detox program is often the safest and most effective way of beginning your journey to sobriety.

The detox process begins with an evaluation and often a blood test to determine the level of drugs in the body. This will help the medical team determine the course of action. As a plan is established, a patient will often be stabilized to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. During this step, they will also get help with proper diet and nutrition which will also help their body recover.

Treating Psychological Addiction

Detox is only one part of the recovery process. Once detox is complete then the patient can begin treatment for the psychological aspect of their addiction. The substance needs to be completely out of the body before the patient can begin to look at what lead to their addiction.

This part of treatment usually involves therapy so that the patient can begin to open up about the factors that may have led to their addiction. Often times this can include behavioral therapy along with group sessions and one-on-one sessions.

Each setting has its benefits when it comes to treating psychological addiction. With the one-on-one sessions, patients can talk exclusively to a counselor about their life issues. In group therapy, patients also open up and talk about their addiction while learning about others. They can feel as though they are not in it alone, which can be reassuring and help with their recovery.

Sometimes family therapy is also introduced to work through any family issues that may have contributed to the addiction. This is why having the support of family is so important in the recovery process.

Even when a patient completes their rehab program, they will often continue therapy in an outpatient basis to help keep them on the path to sobriety. Sobriety is an ongoing way of life that many addicts need to constantly work on to prevent relapse.

Through therapy, patients learn about the triggers, behavior, and people who contributed and supported their addiction and how to avoid them during sobriety. They often learn how to become engaged in new hobbies that foster positivity and keep their minds refocused.

Getting the Help You Need for Addiction

A 2016 report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office showed that nearly 21 million Americans suffer from some type of substance abuse. If you are among this group, it’s time to seek treatment.

If you’re ready to start treating your physical addiction and psychological addiction, SpringBoard Recovery can help. We can help to get the detox assistance you need to treat your physical addiction as well as the necessary therapy sessions needed to treat the psychological addiction.

Our team of highly trained professionals is here to help to get you on the road to sobriety. Contact us today to speak with a staff member for an addiction assessment. Taking this first step is the most important in getting the help you need to fight and beat your addiction.


Author: Robert Castan

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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