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The Difference Between Physical and Psychological Dependence

When it comes to addiction, people often experience both physical and psychological dependence. Many people believe psychological and physical dependence are the same. Still, it’s possible to have physical dependence without being psychologically addicted. Knowing these differences and how they affect recovery can assist in creating a personalized treatment plan for lasting sobriety.

What is Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence occurs when the body gets used to a substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms when the substance is abruptly stopped. Regular use of a substance causes the user to adjust to it, leading to a need for the substance to keep the body in a state of balance.

Risks of Physical Dependence

There are multiple risks associated with physical dependence, including health complications and even death. When you use a substance regularly, your body becomes accustomed to it. As a result, your body requires more of the substance to maintain its balance.

This prolonged substance use can lead to various health issues, including organ damage, heart disease, and mental health disorders. Additionally, physical dependence can go on to impact daily functioning and impair one’s ability to perform daily activities, maintain relationships, and fulfill responsibilities.

Signs of Physical Dependence

Signs or symptoms of physical dependency include:

  • Tolerance – Needing higher doses of a substance to achieve the same effect.
  • Increased use – Using a substance more frequently or in larger amounts to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inability to stop – Difficulty stopping or reducing substance use despite wanting to quit or experiencing negative consequences.
  • Physical Withdrawal symptoms – Experiencing physical discomfort and/or distress when a substance is no longer used, including tremors, nausea, sweating, and persistent cravings.

What Substances Are Associated with Physical Dependence?

Substances most commonly associated with physical dependence include:

What is Psychological Dependence?

Compared to physical dependence, psychological dependence refers to the mind’s dependence on drugs or alcohol for emotional or psychological well-being, including the perceived need for a specific substance to cope with stress and anxiety.

Psychological dependence can happen without physical dependence and is linked to behaviors and thoughts. This can lead to strong cravings and trouble focusing on anything other than using the substance or the pleasure it brings.

Causes of Psychological Dependence

Several factors contribute to psychological dependence, including underlying mental health conditions, environmental triggers, social influences, and past experiences.

Signs of Psychological Dependence

Behavioral and emotional patterns reveal signs or symptoms of psychological dependence. Common signs of psychological dependence include:

  • Compulsive behavior: Actively seeking to obtain and use a substance, often at the expense of other responsibilities.
  • Preoccupation with substance use: Constantly thinking about obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance.
  • Continued use despite negative consequences: Persisting in substance use despite experiencing adverse effects on physical health, mental well-being, relationships, or work or school performance.
  • Substance use as a coping mechanism: Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression.
  • Psychological withdrawal symptoms: Experiencing discomfort or distress when substance is no longer used, including insomnia, mood swings, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression, and more.

What Substances Are Associated with Psychological Dependence?

Substances most commonly associated with psychological dependence include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Cannabis
  • Psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants.

Dependence vs. Addiction

Substance dependence, including both physical and psychological, often lead to addiction. Dependence occurs when the body adapts to a substance, resulting in withdrawal symptoms upon stopping its use. While addiction occurs when someone keeps using a substance despite facing consequences.

How to Tell the Difference Between Physical and Psychological Dependence?

Physical and psychological dependence often occurs alongside one another. However, it’s easy to tell them apart once you know their key characteristics.

Physical dependence on a substance revolves around the body’s adaptation to a particular substance(s), leading to physical changes and withdrawal symptoms when the substance use stops. In comparison, psychological dependence stems from the mind’s reliance on the substance for emotional stability and results in mental withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment Options

Treatment for physical and psychological dependence will vary from patient to patient, as each treatment plan is custom to meet the individual’s needs.

Common treatment plans include:


Completed alongside a medical professional or addiction specialist, detox programs help to safely manage withdrawal symptoms as the body adjusts to the absence of a substance.

Medication-Assisted Therapy

The use of medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and support long-term recovery.

Behavioral Therapies

Evidence-based approaches that address patterns of behavior and thought, helping individuals identify triggers, develop coping strategies, improve decision-making skills, and cultivate support for long-term sobriety.

Holistic Practices

Lifestyle modifications and wellness strategies that address an individual’s overall well-being, including nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and alternative therapies to support recovery.

Mandala Healing Center is Here to Help

Addiction and substance abuse often involve physical and psychological dependence. Many people struggle with both types of dependence during their recovery.

If you or your loved one is struggling with physical and psychological dependence, we’re here to help. Our team at Mandala Healing Center provides detox, residential treatment, mental health services, and wellness programs for those seeking help.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help on the road to recovery.