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What Does Psychological Addiction Involve?

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Psychological addiction means a person has mental or emotional issues associated with their substance use disorder.  The differences between physical addiction and psychological addiction have to do with how the mind and body react to repeated use of a particular substance.

In summary, psychological addiction is the emotional or mental desire for a substance. It is defined as a perceived need to use a substance.  

Why Do People Develop Psychological Addiction?

Frequent or consistent use of a substance or behavior typically leads to emotional dependence.  Over time, the person may find their thoughts about the substance are all-consuming.  It becomes their primary focus.  

Some substances don’t contain addictive chemicals, yet many people become dependent on them anyway.  The best way to describe it is that they get “hooked on a feeling.”  The substance may not cause withdrawal symptoms per se.  Nevertheless, a person can have a compulsive need to use more of it.   

Since the brain and body are interconnected, it’s difficult to distinguish between physical or psychological addiction.  But, the following distinctions can help determine which addiction a person is struggling with:

  • Psychological addiction can happen with any substance or behavior.  Regardless of the substance, if it activates the pleasure center of the brain, addiction can develop.  This happens because the brain gives the person a desire to recreate feelings of pleasure associated with using a substance.  
  • With a physical addiction, the body becomes dependent on addictive chemicals in a substance.  Without the drug,  the body experiences withdrawal symptoms that can be intense.  

Psychological addiction can be just as difficult to break as physical addiction.  The best approach is to seek professional treatment.

Drugs Associated with Psychological Addiction

Although psychological addiction can happen with any substance, some are easier to become dependent on, such as:

  • Stimulants like Ritalin or cocaine
  • Antidepressants
  • Cannabis products
  • Inhalants
  • Hallucinogens such as LSD

Here is a comparison of different drugs and the type of addiction or dependence they induce:

Physical Dependence or Addiction Psychological Dependence or Addiction
Alcoholic beverages Inhalants (solvents, aerosols, gases, nitrates)
Barbiturates (Amytal, Seconal, Fiorinal, etc.) Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP, DMT, Peyote)
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Klonopin, Xanax) Marijuana
Opioids (Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Morphine) Stimulants (Meth, cocaine, Adderall, Dexedrine)
Tobacco SSRIs (Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft)

Of course, a person can have a psychological addiction to certain behaviors as well.  The behaviors can include gambling, sex, eating, exercise, shopping, social media, or the Internet.  Studies show that a large number of people with behavioral addictions also abuse substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or others.  

What Are the Signs of Psychological Addiction?

If someone with psychological addiction doesn’t display physical withdrawal symptoms, how do you know if they need help?  

Although there may be no visible physical signs, a person with psychological addiction will experience emotional reactions to the substance.  Some people feel that they need the substance to function normally.  They also lose interest in usual activities and spend most of their time thinking about the substance.

Other signs and symptoms of psychological addiction are:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Mood swings
  • Low energy or apathy
  • Relationship problems
  • Unable to manage stress
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Irritability

These symptoms become more noticeable when the person is deprived of the substance.  The symptoms also go hand-in-hand with physical addiction.  For example, a person with physical dependence or addiction usually has an emotional or mental issue that leads to their substance use.  For that reason, most people in addiction treatment programs are struggling to overcome both physical and psychological addictions.

How to Overcome Psychological Dependence on Drugs or Alcohol

Occasionally, people overcome psychological addiction by gradually tapering off the substance.  Of course, this approach should be supervised by the person’s physician.  Unfortunately, many of these individuals relapse, especially if their stress levels increase or a traumatic event occurs. When this happens, the person will fall back on using the substance thinking it will help them cope. 

Professional treatment for psychological addiction involves learning about the underlying reasons for the substance use.  With counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and continuing support, it is possible to make the lifestyle changes necessary for continued sobriety.  

At Design for Change Recovery, our inpatient program eliminates negative outside influences.  Our patients enjoy a secure and comforting environment that allows them to focus on healing.  Also, our comprehensive program provides onsite detox, therapy and counseling sessions, aftercare services, and more.    

Contact us at our Lancaster, California facility today to learn more about treatment for psychological addiction.  One of our representatives will be happy to talk to you about our treatment options and recommend a program for your unique needs.  


What Does Psychological Addiction Involve?