Physical vs. Psychological Dependence

Physical vs. psychological dependence in addiction is commonly difficult to understand. Learn the differences from our experts here at Lakehouse Recovery.

The mind and the body are directly connected. There is plenty of clinical evidence to support the link between the two. When the body is ailing, it affects how you feel emotionally. Also, mental health problems are linked to physical aches and pains.

This concept is true when it comes to addiction, too. Physical and psychological dependence in addiction is directly linked. You may be wondering what the difference is between addiction and dependence. Many reports use them interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Let’s find out what physical vs. physiological dependence is.

Dependence vs. Addiction

In the drug and alcohol treatment industry, specific terms describe a person’s relationship with substances. No matter how a person starts using a substance, they will begin to build a tolerance if they continue to use it or abuse it.

Tolerance refers to the amount of a substance needed to achieve the same intoxicating effects felt when you first started using it. For example, if you were prescribed Oxycontin for pain and your doctor ordered you to take one tablet every four to six hours, this amount will work fine for the first week.

After a week, though, you will notice the pill’s effects start to wear off after two or three hours. Or, one pill may not alleviate pain at all. Many choose to alter their prescription, abusing the original orders. Some double their dose, some take it more frequently, and some mix it with alcohol or other drugs.

All of these are signs that tolerance is higher.

As tolerance grows, your body becomes dependent on the substance. This means if you try to stop using drugs or alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. You can also become addicted. Because the obsessive thoughts and withdrawals are so severe, you continue to use substances despite the consequences.

This happens because of the link between physical and psychological dependence in addiction.

What is Physical Dependence?

The longer you use drugs or alcohol, the more likely your brain and body will adapt to living with the substance in your system. The body’s cells and organs cannot function without it. Drugs and alcohol can trick you into thinking you must have them for survival.

Physical dependence alone is not the same as addiction, but it is tough to quit using substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Physical Dependence

Physical dependence can happen with any substance, including caffeine and sugar. Anyone trying to quit likely felt irritable and suffered from a mild headache. After a day or so, the symptoms subside.

The symptoms of physical dependence on drugs or alcohol can include nausea, vomiting, shaking, tremors, muscle aches and pains, stomach spasms, and mood swings. Symptoms can appear within just a few hours of last use.

Symptoms can also occur that signal a psychological dependence.

What Is Psychological Dependence?

Psychological dependence can be just as challenging as physical dependence. The difference is that the symptoms relate to emotions and mental state.

Both drugs and alcohol cause a release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. When released, these two neurotransmitters flood the brain’s reward center, making you feel better than you ever have before. Right away, your brain wants to continue feeling this good.

As the substance leaves your body, your brain jumps into action, creating psychological withdrawal symptoms to try and convince you to keep using drugs or alcohol. The symptoms become so severe it is hard to function. Now, let’s look at the signs of physical vs. psychological dependence.

Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Dependence

Intense cravings, obsessive thoughts of using, anxiety, and mood swings are examples of signs and symptoms associated with psychological withdrawal.

You may find it difficult to concentrate on anything but finding a drug and using it. Some find it hard to eat or sleep, and underlying mental health issues can worsen. Withdrawal can become so bad it can prevent you from completing daily responsibilities.

Both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms are the main reason people continue to use, even when they don’t want to. They are addicted and will do whatever it takes to avoid withdrawal.

Common Addiction Behaviors

Addiction will make someone act in ways they never would if they were sober. They manipulate those who love them. They lie and steal.  They switch emotions until they find the one that will get them what they want.

They do all this with one goal, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

They are not having fun and enjoying getting high from drugs or alcohol. They hate the control drugs or alcohol has over their life. But because they are physically and psychologically dependent, they cannot see a way to get sober. They feel stuck in their addiction.

Help Is Available

There is help for anyone struggling with physical or psychological dependence, withdrawal, and addiction. The best programs designed to teach you how to avoid relapsing include the following:

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP):

The best IOP services are delivered in a format to meet your needs so that you can continue living your life and meeting your daily responsibilities while also receiving the most treatment available. IOP meets several times a week in both group and individual counseling formats. It can even be completed online.


It is hard to focus on sobriety when you are feeling the symptoms of withdrawal. Medication can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms so you can focus on learning relapse prevention skills.


During all stages of recovery, help is needed. Treatment facilities provide support through peer groups, 12-step programs, and sober community activities.


Not only will you receive traditional individual and group therapies, but you can also benefit from holistic therapies, family therapy, fitness, and experiential programs.

Clinical therapies

Comprehensive and help you understand the biological and environmental factors contributing to your dependence on drugs or alcohol and how to overcome them.

If you feel you may be dependent on any substance, reach out for help today. You deserve to be free from the hold drugs and alcohol can have over your life. We can help you achieve that freedom. Now that you know what physical vs. psychological dependence looks like, you can take more informed action.

Dependence Treatment - Lakehouse Recovery Center


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