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Physical Dependence vs. Psychological Dependence

Psychological and physical dependence on any substance heavily affects your mental and physical well-being

The Difference Between Physical Dependence and Psychological Dependence

Addiction is a chronic condition that may lead to physical or psychological dependence. Not all addictions are similar; some addictions may affect both your physical and mental state, while others don't. Seek medical advice to understand the type of dependence you have and get the right course of treatment. 

Physical drug dependence produces physical effects that negatively impact your body, while psychological dependence on drugs changes your brain's overall chemical levels and chemistry. 

The Relationship Between Physical and Psychological Dependence

It is possible to have a psychological dependence on drugs and never experience any physical impacts. If you have a psychological dependence on a prescription medication, that dependence will determine how you perform your tasks, relationships, or overall health. On the other hand, physical dependence leads to drug tolerance and physical withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using a drug you are addicted to.1

To put it plainly, physical dependence vs. psychological dependence differs in the area of your life it affects. Physical dependence impacts the body, while psychological dependence affects the mind. 

Understanding Physical Addiction

Physical dependence causes you to find normal routines arduous when you don't have access to use a certain substance or engage in certain behavior. You may continuously feel exhausted or lose focus with your daily habits until you encounter addictive behavior or substance. Eventually, this feeling reinforces thoughts that using a certain drug is crucial for your everyday life.

People react differently when they are denied a substance they have a dependence on, but they all indicate a certain degree of physical dependence.

Physical Dependence Symptoms

Your body may develop different reactions when you stop using a substance you are accustomed to, which depends on what substance it is, how long you have been taking it, and if you’ve built up a tolerance. Overall, however, some of the common physical dependence symptoms include:

  • Lack of sleep

  • Trembling and shaking

  • Gastrointestinal issues and abdominal pain

  • Seizures

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Irritability

  • Dry mouth

  • Blackouts

  • Blood pressure increase

  • Fatigue

  • Exhaustion

  • Increased heart rate

  • Muscle cramps

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Understanding Psychological Addiction

Psychological dependence happens when your mind believes you need to have a certain substance in order to function normally. Psychological dependence impacts how you look at yourself, your environment, and why you need addictive substances or behaviors. This kind of dependence can affect your psyche even after you are finished with a detox program and the drug is out of your system entirely.

Though this type of dependence is locked in your mind, it has dangerous real-life impacts, including:


Depression is a common psychological symptom that affects your mood. While many people use drugs to alleviate stress and worry in their lives, this behavior can also end up causing a substance abuse disorder. However, the euphoric feelings do not last long and often worsen your feelings once sober, which can lead to depression.2


Anxiety is the response your mind and body give during dangerous, unfamiliar, or stressful situations. Mostly drug and alcohol misuse leads to anxiety and other panic disorders. Additionally, anxiety is a common withdrawal symptom that may worsen during the detox stage.3

Other psychological dependence symptoms include:

  • Obsession

  • Anger

  • Denial

  • An inability to imagine coping without the substance

  • Restlessness

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Mood swings

  • Obsessive-compulsive thoughts

  • Intense cravings

  • Decreased motivation

  • Feeling detached from reality

Relationship Between Physical and Psychological Addiction

Though psychological and physical dependence on drugs has many differences, they exist in a symbiotic relationship. This relationship leads to a dangerous addiction cycle that could require professional help to break. When one starts using drugs, the "high" feelings are tied to the situations or places you use these drugs.

These feelings then reinforce your future using habits leading to repeated use, meaning, your body needs more of the substance to achieve the previous euphoric feeling. Tolerance to the drug leads to changes in your brain function and body chemistry. You may need holistic healing from the effects of both dependencies in order to fully recover. 

Treatment Differences

Though physical and psychological dependence may occur simultaneously, doctors differ in how they treat both. Physical dependence produces symptoms like pains and aches that often last a shorter time during the detox stage. Doctors at this stage provide medications that ease these physical symptoms and the body’s dependence on the drug. 4

In contrast, psychological dependence produces mental impacts that may last longer than detox programs and rehab. In addition, these psychological effects may require additional support throughout detox, sober living, and residential and outpatient care. Hence, doctors create personalized approaches and appropriate coping strategies that restructure your emotional and mental state. 

Substances Associated with Psychological and Physical Dependence

The following are some of the common drugs found to cause both physical and psychological dependence in people who misuse them:5

  • Most stimulants

  • Most hallucinogenic drugs

  • Cannabis products 

  • Many inhalant products

  • Many psychotropic medications

  • Opiate drugs

  • Benzodiazepines 6

  • Barbiturates

Treating Physical and Psychological Dependence

Getting the right treatment option that tackles both the psychological and physical aspects of addiction is crucial. At the Ripple Ranch, our medical professionals specialize in various treatment plans for drug dependency, especially dual diagnosis disorders. If you are struggling with either a psychological or physical dependence on addiction, we can offer the following treatment options; these will be detailed below.

Drug Detox

Drug detox programs at Ripple Ranch occur in a highly monitored environment to ensure the safety of our patients. The program is to remove any harmful substance from your body as the first step to overcoming addiction. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medicated-assisted treatment (MAT) is a highly effective treatment for people battling addiction. MAT uses various DEA-certified drugs that help prevent relapse, lessen withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. These drugs include Antabuse, Naltrexone, Vivitrol, Suboxone, etc.7


Our doctors also use different therapy options to help treat drug dependence. Therapies are a great way to face any underlying issues you have, offer various coping strategies, and help you live a sober life. Therapy options may include individual, couples, group, or family therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, etc.

Get Help with Physical and Psychological Dependence at Ripple Ranch

Psychological and physical dependence adversely affects your health, relationships, work, or school activities. Contact Ripple Ranch today for any inquiries involving drug dependence and the various treatment options we have lined up for you.