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To best understand drug addiction, it’s important to learn how addictive substances affect and damage the body and the mind.

In the past, many people believed that addiction was purely physical and that there were only physical symptoms to treat. This will not help a person reach total sobriety, since it neglects the psychological aspects of recovery. And on the other side of the coin, you cannot only address the psychological markers of addiction without treating the physical symptoms of addiction and withdrawal. Looking at both aspects of addiction and how they can be treated separately and together will give you the best tools for recovery and sobriety.

Physical Addiction

Most of the symptoms of physical addiction stem from chemical changes in the brain that are formed from substance abuse. The substances target the pleasure receptors in the brain and mess with the chemical levels in that area, which then becomes the brain’s new “normal” levels. Essentially, the brain is tricked into thinking that it needs to drugs to maintain that normal level, which in fact is not normal at all.

The dangerous part is that the brain will develop a tolerance to the drug and the dosage that worked last week to reach the pleasure centers and create a “high” no longer works. The addicted person will need to increase their dosage over and over again to get the desired reactions. This is the aspect of addiction that leads to the person to seek out stronger substances over time and can lead to overdose. Additionally, once a brain’s pleasure center has been so damaged by drugs, it may not be able to produce pleasure chemicals without the help of substances. This means that recovering addicts may not feel any pleasure chemicals for a very long time and feel depressed (which can also impede the recovery process).

Once the brain is damaged and dependent on the substance to feel like its chemical levels are balance, it can trigger unpleasant physical symptoms once those drugs are gone. These symptoms are called withdrawal and are extremely unpleasant to endure, which can cause an addiction to become even stronger. Withdrawal symptoms serve as a very uncomfortable reminder of the physical discomfort and pain that comes while working for sobriety. This is a huge reason why simply going “cold turkey” (completely stopping all drug ingestion at once) tends to be an unsuccessful approach to ending addiction.

While withdrawal tends to look different for every person, the most common symptoms include:

Psychological Addiction

Substance abuse can have just as strong an impact on the mind as it does the body. It all boils down to the fact that addiction is a habit that is reinforced through repetition, practice, and triggers. Every time a person ingests the substance, the habit is then mentally reinforced over and over again. And as anyone can attest, breaking a habit, especially one deeply reinforced, is a difficult thing to do.

Psychological addiction will get to the point where addicts will feel the cravings (the psychological response) for their substance, or a “fix,” will come whenever they are surrounds by things that remind them of that substance, such as drug-related paraphernalia and places they frequented to get or ingest the drugs. Additionally, memories of past “highs” can keep those cravings and triggers alive. This is a common symptom for anyone in recovery.

There Is Hope

Going through the lists of both physical and psychological addiction symptoms can make recovery seem nearly impossible, but sobriety is absolutely possible and doable. The key is finding a recovery center that is dedicated to treating both sides of addiction. Seek out help from friends, family and loved ones to start the recovery process.


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