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What Is Psychological Dependence?

image of woman representing psychological dependence

Psychological dependence is a concept that captures the emotional and mental aspects of substance use disorder, such as intense cravings for a substance or an overwhelming preoccupation with its use. This condition is sometimes also known as psychological addiction.

The terms dependence and addiction are often used synonymously, but they have distinct meanings. Dependence can be physical, with the body relying on a substance for normal functioning, often leading to withdrawal symptoms manifesting when the substance is not used. Addiction, on the other hand, is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. It encompasses both psychological and physical aspects that are intricately intertwined. The term psychological addiction is usually used as a definition of psychological dependence rather than diagnosable addiction.

That said, there is considerable variation in how medical professionals use these terms. In the latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) the diagnoses of substance dependence and substance abuse (informally known as addiction) have been eliminated due to widespread confusion. Now, these conditions are collectively categorized as substance use disorder, with a severity spectrum ranging from mild to severe.

Psychological Dependence Overview

Psychology is about how our emotions and minds work. Psychological dependence meaning expresses how our feelings and thoughts are involved in getting addicted to, and recovering from, a substance use disorder or an addiction to certain behaviors. That said, keep in mind that our emotions, thoughts, and physical body are all connected. Saying that psychological dependence is less serious than physical dependence is a myth. They are not completely separate and cannot be compared as if they are.

When people define psychological dependence, they are discussing the mental and emotional sides of addiction or what happens in your mind and feelings when you stop using drugs or alcohol. They are not trying to label certain substances or behaviors as just psychologically or physically addictive. The signs of psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol usually include:

  • Strong desires or cravings
  • Anxiety when trying to stop the addiction
  • Feeling depressed when not using the substance or trying to quit
  • Feeling irritable or restless when not using the substance or trying to quit
  • Mood swings when trying to quit or not using the substance
  • Changes in appetite when not using the substance
  • Sleep problems when quitting or not using the substance
  • Doubts about being able to quit using the substance
  • Denial of the addiction or making it seem less serious than it is
  • Constant thoughts about getting or using the substance
  • Problems with thinking clearly, remembering things, and making decisions

Physical dependence is more about how your body reacts, like needing more of the substance over time (tolerance) and having physical withdrawal symptoms (like nausea or seizures) when you stop using it. The emotional and mental symptoms of psychological dependence on a drug can vary a lot in how strong they are compared to the physical symptoms of dependence. But it’s hard to measure exactly how much distress someone is feeling, either emotionally or physically.

Also, even psychological symptoms like cravings are believed to have a physical basis in the body. At the same time, the physical aspects of addiction (like tolerance and withdrawal) are also influenced by mental and emotional factors.

A man who is experiencing an example of psychological dependence

Psychological Dependence Examples

Here are some examples to illustrate psychological dependence:

  • Cocaine: Cocaine is an example of psychological dependence due to the intense euphoria and energy it provides. When not using cocaine, individuals might feel intense cravings, depression, and a lack of pleasure (anhedonia), as they miss the heightened alertness and sense of well-being the drug offers.
  • Meth: Meth is another psychological dependence example known for creating a powerful psychological grip on people, primarily due to the intense rush of pleasure and confidence it induces. When someone stops using meth, they might experience extreme cravings, depression, and lethargy, as they struggle with the loss of the drug’s stimulating effects.
  • Antidepressants: While not traditionally addictive, some individuals may develop a psychological dependence on antidepressants. This dependence is often linked to the fear of relapsing into depression or anxiety without the medication, leading to a reliance on it for emotional stability.
  • Marijuana: Psychological dependence on marijuana can manifest as a reliance on the drug for relaxation, stress relief, or to enhance enjoyment of activities. Withdrawal might include cravings, irritability, anxiety, and a feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction with daily life without the drug.
  • Inhalants: Those who use inhalants may develop a psychological dependence due to the escape or euphoria these substances provide. Dependence can manifest as a preoccupation with the next opportunity to use inhalants, alongside cravings and a persistent desire to recreate the dissociative or intoxicating effects they produce.

Psychological Dependence on Alcohol

Psychological dependence on alcohol involves a strong emotional and mental attachment to drinking. Individuals with this type of dependence often rely on alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, or other emotional issues. Key signs include:

  • Craving alcohol: A constant desire or urge to drink, especially in stressful or social situations.
  • Emotional reliance: Using alcohol as a primary method to deal with negative emotions or to enhance positive ones.
  • Denial of problems: Ignoring or minimizing the negative consequences of drinking.
  • Routine and ritual: Establishing specific routines or rituals around alcohol consumption.
  • Social focus on drinking: Preferring social situations where alcohol is present and avoiding those where it is not.

Psychological Dependence Drugs

Psychological dependence on drugs refers to a mental and emotional reliance on a substance, whether it’s prescription medications, illicit drugs, or over-the-counter substances. It is characterized by:

  • Compulsive usage: Feeling a strong need or compulsion to use the drug regularly.
  • Mental preoccupation: Spending a lot of time thinking about the drug, including how to obtain more and when to use it next.
  • Emotional dependence: Relying on the drug to manage emotions, stress, or to escape from reality.
  • Behavioral changes: Changes in behavior, such as withdrawing from social activities or neglecting responsibilities, due to drug use.
  • Resistance to quit: Difficulty in attempting to quit or reduce usage despite knowing its harmful effects.
a man celebrating which represents learning psychological dependency

Find Treatment for Psychological Dependence at Drug Rehabs Centers

Many people who need addiction treatment are unable to connect with the right rehab. We can help you achieve that at Drug Rehabs Centers in Southern California.

Whether you have developed psychological dependence on alcohol or psychological drug dependence, effective treatment should begin with supervised detoxification. This enables you to address any issues of physical drug or alcohol dependence before you engage with ongoing therapy to help you overcome psychological dependency on addictive substances.

We can help you find suitable rehab centers in California at all levels of intensity, from inpatient rehab (residential rehab) to outpatient and intensive outpatient programs near you. We can also refer you to peer support groups if you need additional accountability in your recovery.

When you are ready to participate in science-backed treatment to tackle psychological or physical dependence on drugs or alcohol, call 844.739.2005 for immediate assistance.

Juan Bonnet
Author: Juan Bonnet

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