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Difference Between Psychological & Physical Addiction

While alcohol use may be benign for many, for others it can be a  serious condition that consumes their lives. Some people engage in risky behavior because the rush of adrenalin gives them a boost of energy. Regardless, people may experience psychological or physical addictions that can be harmful if ignored.

What is a psychological addiction?

Psychological addiction defines substance use disorder’s mental or emotional workings, like having intense cravings for the behavior or substance and the inability to think about anything else. The addiction piece refers explicitly to a brain disorder with a compulsive desire for substance use and ignoring potentially adverse outcomes. It’s a multifaceted condition wrapped in both psychological and physical elements that can be difficult to separate. It affects millions of people.

Psychological factors of addiction

Psychological addiction can be hard to identify. There could be a heightened desire to re-experience a substance or behavior, possibly influenced by psychological factors like stress or history of trauma, social factors (some on your family or friend circle uses a substance), and environmental factors, like access to a particular substance at a low cost, can result in regular use or exposure, combined with chronic use or exposure which could lead to brain changes.

Physical addiction

Addiction—or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal. The latter reflect physical dependence in which the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal).” But it’s treatable.

The cost of addiction

The cost of addiction, psychological and physical, has terrible consequences for society. As a nation, Americans face loss of productivity and poor work performance, legal problems, and intervention and support from the medical community. It’s estimated that for all drug use, there’s an $820 billion price tag. There are consequences of a more personal nature: A disrupted career trajectory, fractured or completely severed personal relationships, lowered self-esteem, and the onset of mental health issues.

Difference Between Psychological & Physical Addiction

The difference between physical addiction versus psychological addiction is physical addiction affects your body, and psychological dependence influences your behavior.

Depending on what you were addicted to, it was previously surmised to be an addiction to one or the other. But in the real world, addiction features both physical and psychological components. Physical addiction features notions of tolerance and withdrawal. Psychological addiction is when you depend on the substance or the drugs of choice.

Physical dependence is characteristic of the long-term use of many drugs, even including many prescription medicines if used as instructed. Physical dependence by itself doesn’t constitute addiction, but it often pals along with addiction. This distinction can be hard to get, especially related to pain medications by your healthcare provider. The necessity for bigger dosages can signify tolerance or a steadily worsening underlying condition, rather than the beginning of substance use or addiction.

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, 21 million Americans suffer from addiction. The effects of drug and alcohol addiction are especially worrisome and may be the ones most easily recognized.

Effects of alcohol addiction:

  • Disrupts communication in the brain
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems
  • Pancreatic problems
  • Possibly cancer

Effects of drug addiction

  • Psychotic behavior
  • Seizures
  • Death due to overdose
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Impairment of ability to resist unwanted interactions with others
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Possible brain damage
  • Risk of communicable disease
  • Accidents
  • Problems at home, school, work
  • Legal troubles
  • Financial difficulties

But addictions can be treated.

Diagnosis & treatment

Diagnosing drug addiction (substance use disorder) requires a thorough evaluation and often includes an assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Blood, urine, or other lab tests are used to assess drug use, but they’re not diagnostic tests for addiction. However, these tests may be used for monitoring treatment and recovery.”

To diagnose substance use disorder, most mental healthcare professionals refer to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Psychotherapy is a standard treatment for psychological and physical addiction, plus certain prescribed medicine, and ketamine infusion therapy.

Final thoughts

If you suffer from addiction, it’s important to remember that help’s available, and you and your life are worthy of health and productivity. Addiction can be hard to handle, but local and national organizations exist for that reason. Speak to your healthcare provider about treatment options, including ketamine therapy for substance abuse disorder. 

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