What is Psychological Dependence When it Comes to Addiction? Can it be Broken?

Last Updated: Jan 31st 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Addiction is defined by the continued use of a substance that alters a person’s mood in spite of negative consequences/behaviors. To understand what addiction is, you need to be aware of the difference between physical and psychological addiction. Both come into play if someone suffers from drug or alcohol dependence, and both can certainly be broken.

What is Physical Dependence?

Let’s use opiate addiction as an example. If you take opiates for an extended amount of time, you’ll build up a tolerance to the drugs. Receptors within your brain will become less sensitive, and you’ll need higher and higher doses of the drug to get the same effect. 

Soon, the body will be unable to make enough natural opioids to satisfy the tolerant receptors and will become dependent on the drugs you’re taking. This is an example of physical dependence. Some symptoms of physical dependence may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Blackouts
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation

What is Psychological Dependence?

The definition of the word “psychological” directly relates to the emotions or mind. Psychological dependence is when you become mentally dependent on substances or the behaviors you display as a result of the psychological addiction. 

If you have a psychological addiction problem, you have an emotional or mental attachment to a substance. This can be more dangerous than a physical dependence because it leads to constant use and a toxic mental state. This kind of dependence can also be explained as an internal battle.

The symptoms of psychological addiction can be severe and intense. They include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Denial
  • Appetite loss
  • Intense substance cravings
  • Inability to imagine coping without the substance
  • Feeling restless when you’re not using the substance
  • Being mentally obsessed with getting more of the drug
  • Insomnia that related to not being able to use a drug
  • Anxiety when thinking of not being able to access the substance

A More In-Depth Look At Psychological Dependence

Most people refer to psychological dependence as the cognitive and emotional aspects of addictive behaviors or the withdrawal process from drugs or alcohol. Psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol is the main reason as to why people have such a hard time breaking free from addiction. An addict not only becomes physically addicted but mentally as well. There’s a misconception that solely detoxing will be enough to drop an addiction.

However, physical dependence is only a small part of the recovery process, meant to prepare a foundation for recovery. Alcohol and drug treatment programs aim to support an addict during the mental and emotional challenges of the recovery process.

Understanding how psychological dependence on a substance develops and how severe it can be is crucial to recovery. The science behind addiction helps to put matters into a more objective light. There’s an explanation as to why you may want to stop very badly but can’t seem to shake the addiction. 

Once you understand how the brain works, the willingness to take suggestions gets much easier, and you can begin to recover. Addiction therapy aims to lessen and eventually eliminate the psychological dependence an addict feels.

How Does Psychological Dependence Begin to Form?

Our biological processes are a part of who we are. There are primitive traits inside of us that we carry every day, even if we don’t realize. Essentially, every species of animal has a pleasure-reward system brain for survival. This helps us survive by remembering where to find food when we’re hungry or water when we’re thirsty. Through repetition of action, our habits (both good and bad) get stronger.

This cycle is called the “habit loop”. It can be broken down into three separate parts:

  • Trigger
  • Behavior
  • Reward

The trigger is what makes you tick. For example, a stressful day at work makes you feel like you need to drink. The behavior is the drinking itself. The reward is a temporary relief from your pain. 

Eventually, the brain connects that drugs can curb a negative emotion. Although drugs are dangerous with fatal consequences, the brain just relies on the reward. Once this happens, any time an individual with an addiction experiences something negative, the brain tells them to use the substance.

Early Recovery Is Challenging

Habits continue to grow, the more we repeat them. This is why long-term care can have such incredible results at rehab. The structure and support of residential treatment teach responsibility and helps break a psychological dependence. Sadly, many people relapse when they try an outpatient or IOP first. When you repeat a positive set of actions for an extended period, they tend to begin to stick. 

A psychological dependence signals to your brain that abusing a substance is the only way to feel well. The longer you spend in this cycle, the harder it can be for your brain to break this habit. Inpatient treatment centers around the concept that sobriety is a skill. It can gradually get stronger through the right training.

Recovering early is not realistic for most addictions. It takes time to get better. Setting realistic expectations helps our patients be patient with themselves throughout the process. 

Co-Occurring Disorders with Psychological Dependence

Dual diagnosis treatment focuses on treating co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder is the presence of mental illness as well as an addiction. For some people, the trigger to begin using drugs or alcohol was a symptom of mental illness like anxiety, depression, ADHD, or PTSD. 

Because addiction and many mental health conditions have similar symptoms, proper diagnosis of either condition can be challenging. Due to the difficulty in diagnosis, one disorder might be treated while the other is left undiagnosed. Consequently, this leaves the patient vulnerable to relapse or worsening mental health. Therefore, each diagnosis must be made and treated simultaneously.

Co-occurring disorders are tragically common. About 7.9 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders in 2014. No matter how alone you may feel, you’re not. People are working through similar challenges as you. Being connected with these people at rehab is a powerful tool in the recovery process.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

You may be able to recognize co-occurring disorders if you keep an eye out for certain symptoms. Each person is unique in the signs they display. However, generally speaking, there are symptoms that most people may experience. 

Those symptoms include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Using substances under dangerous conditions
  • Risky behavior
  • Loss of control over how much they use substances or drink alcohol
  • Needing more and more of the substance to achieve the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Displaying intense, painful withdrawal symptoms
  • Cravings for the substance, and the belief that they need the substance to function.

Psychological dependence typically leads to co-occurring disorders. This is almost inevitable. Recognizing the early signs of co-occurring disorders can stop addiction in its tracks.

The most common co-occurring disorders with substance abuse fall into five categories:

  1. Mood disorders
  2. Anxiety disorders
  3. Psychotic disorders
  4. Personality disorders
  5. Eating disorders

Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders directly correlate with psychological dependence. When you take the time to address the underlying roots of addiction, you’ll start to notice breakthroughs within yourself. Therapy is a key component in treatment when addressing these issues. Our treatment program offers a variety of resources for psychological dependence within the entirety of the treatment plan.

Psychological dependence can get in the way of someone’s ability to function normally. Fortunately, rehab can help you on the road to recovery. Our facility offers a variety of programs with different levels of care. 

When it comes to psychological dependence, some of the many options we offer are:

  • Residential treatment programs. This is also known as inpatient rehab. This kind of treatment offers medical supervision 24/7. One of the biggest benefits is that the patient is away from any harmful triggers. Instead, they reside in a sober and supportive community.
  • Outpatient treatment options. If you have serious obligations outside of rehab, then this program may be a perfect fit for you. Whether it’s childcare or career-related, outpatient treatments work to create a flexible schedule that meets your needs. 
  • Individual therapy. Therapy directly targets psychological dependence on any substance, Individual therapy for co-occurring disorders focuses on building motivation, identifying self-defeating thoughts, and learning positive new behaviors. 

Seek Help Today and Call 1st Step Behavioral Health 

We aim to create a supportive environment where our patients feel safe and encouraged. From our professional medical staff to comfortable amenities, we offer what’s best to help you to feel right at home. Recovery is about the journey, just as much as the final destination. We are willing and ready to walk on this journey with you.

With the right treatment, you’ll notice your psychological dependence subside. With the help of therapy, you’ll be able to begin replacing toxic habits with positive ones. As time goes on, you’ll develop a new outlook on life. Call 1st Step Behavioral Health at (866) 319-6126 or contact us here for more information about available programs.

References:

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.