Psychological Addiction

Psychological Addiction | Harmony Treatment & Wellness

What Is Psychological Addiction? – One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding substance abuse is that most addictions are grounded in a chemical dependence – a condition that can be remedied through detox alone. Consequently, many people who are battling addiction fail to identify the influence that psychological factors have on their drug or alcohol use.

Furthermore, some try to attempt detox on their own through “cold turkey” methods, and ultimately fail because the underlying emotional issues that brought them to this state remain unaddressed.

Unfortunately, a self-guided detox is dangerous and often result in very little success, because approaching addiction from a purely physical standpoint alone can significantly hinder recovery. It is critical that all people who are suffering from addiction to understand the nature of psychological dependency and how addressing these factors is essential for positive, long-term results.

Psychological Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

Physical vs. Psychological Addiction

In many cases of drug and alcohol addiction, an individual will become chemically (physically) dependent on a substance through repeated, chronic use, such as those who use cocaine, meth, heroin, or other opioids.

Physical addiction is characterized by the body’s genuine need for the drug’s presence in order for the user to function at a level that is comfortable. Moreover, without the drug, the body will enter withdrawal and unpleasant and sometimes dangerous symptoms will manifest.

Regarding psychological addiction, there may not be a physical requirement to use a substance, but instead, there is an intense mental desire. When psychological addiction occurs in conjunction with a physical dependency (which it often does) detox alone will treat only half of the problem.

After an individual has completely detoxified and gone through withdrawal symptoms related to a chemical dependency, it is likely that he or she will need to identify and analyze the psychological factors that contributed to the substance abuse in the first place.

Most individuals who discuss psychological dependence are referring to the cognitive and/or emotional aspects of addictive behaviors as opposed to attempting to classify certain substances as being psychologically or physically addictive.

The most common symptoms associated with the psychological components of addictive behaviors consist of the following:

  • Cravings
  • Issues with anxiety that occur when attempting to stop addictive behavior
  • Issues with depression when one is not engaging in substance use or tries to stop their addictive behavior
  • Irritability and restlessness that occur when one is not using their drug of choice or attempting to quit
  • Any other issues with moodiness that occur when one is not using their drug of choice or trying to quit
  • Appetite loss or increased appetite linked to not using one’s substance of choice
  • Issues with sleep associated with quitting the drug of choice
  • Issues with ambiguity about being able to stop using the drug of choice
  • Denial that one has a substance abuse issue or glamorizing one’s substance use
  • Obsessing over getting or using the drug of choice
  • Cognitive issues, such as those dealing with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and other aspects of judgment, etc.

Reasons for Psychological Addiction

There are many reasons and causes why a person may become psychologically dependent on a substance in addition to being physically dependent. While physical dependence will often develop out of the body’s reaction to a substance, psychological addictions will often be motivated by mental health conditions that if identified early can be addressed before the substance abuse gets out of control.

The following are some common reasons why people develop psychological addictions:


Oftentimes, people who are not physically dependent on drugs or alcohol will turn to psychoactive substances as a way to treat stress – albeit inappropriately – derived from work or home life. For example, the pressure to perform well academically can compel students to become reliant on “study” drugs such as amphetamines. Others may find that alcohol, while also chemically addictive, can occasionally relieve stress despite the destruction it can cause to the body.

Social Anxiety

Psychological Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

Addiction often occurs after a person engages in recreational substance abuse – also known as the use of drugs or alcohol for social or nonmedical purposes. Individuals who experience significant social anxiety will occasionally find that drugs or alcohol can act as a “social lubricant” to relieve the pressures of being interactive around others.

Thus, substance abuse can be a way to increase ease around others, participate in conversations and forge personal connections. While this desire to reduce social anxiety is not a bad thing, using psychoactive substances as a solution can result in both chemical and psychological addiction.

Depression and Trauma

Not unlike the aforementioned examples, drugs and alcohol can also be used as a way to escape from depressing circumstances, feelings or traumatic experiences. People who suffer from symptoms of depression may feel that the only escape from their unhappiness is to bury their emotions in drugs or alcohol—substances that may, at least temporarily, improve mood. However, this use only continues to perpetuate the cycle of depression rather than actually treat it.

Also, peoples who experience post-traumatic stress disorder may find that substances allow them to temporarily numb pain associated with the trauma. Instead of seeking medical and therapeutic ways to appropriately treat the trauma, many begin and propel a dangerous pattern of addiction that holds the trauma present in one’s life at all times.

Psychopathological Model of Addiction

Psychological Addiction | Harmony Treatment and Wellness

The idea that behavior can be classified into mutually exclusive components, such as psychological versus purely physical aspects of behavior is not sustainable considering the current understanding of behavior.

Moreover, all psychological and emotional processes have a physiological foundation, and all complex behaviors that are not simply reflex actions have a significant psychological component. The notion of a dualistic separation of mind and body is a myth and an unrealistic means to view nearly any type of behavior. This includes behaviors linked to substance use disorders and process addictions such as gambling.

The psychopathological model views mental health conditions as the cause of addiction. These disorders can include cognitive challenges, mood disturbances, and other mental illnesses. In fact, addiction and mental health disorders commonly co-occur. By some estimates, roughly half of all individuals seeking addiction treatment will also have a comorbid mental disorder.

Related to psychopathology is the notion of an addictive personality. Certain personality traits might be the underlying determinants in all addictive disorders. These may include the denial of readily apparent problems and difficulties with emotion and impulse regulation.

Treating Psychological Addiction

As noted above, recognizing the psychological factors that contribute to addiction is essential when attempting to develop an effective recovery plan. Even in cases of chemical dependence in which detox and withdrawal symptoms take place, it is strongly recommended that those involved with substance use seek mental health guidance to examine and treat psychological issues that may contribute to or exacerbate an addiction.

Following detox, clients are encouraged to participate in a long-term inpatient and/or intensive outpatient treatment program. Whether through cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling or dual diagnosis treatment, clients at our center can find the resources they need to identify and treat both the physical and psychological causes of addiction, allowing for a healthy and more positive recovery experience.

Finally, our medical and mental health staff provide our clients with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully recover and maintain long-lasting sobriety and wellness. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong endeavor but you don’t have to do it alone. We can help!

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