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Psychological Dependence


Addiction is an epidemic that can destroy lives, careers, and families. Part of what makes addiction such a difficult illness to combat is that it is both a physical and a psychological addiction to a substance or alcohol, making it a difficult and complex disorder to combat and treat.

Contrary to some beliefs, it cannot be treated simply by stopping “cold turkey” and you are not cured when the withdrawal symptoms subside. While the withdrawal process is difficult and can be painful, the psychological addiction and dependence is the aspect that requires a lot of therapy and attention.

What is Psychological Dependence?

First off, what is defined as psychological dependence on a substance or alcohol? When a person has an emotional and compulsive need to take the substance or drink alcohol despite the risks, they are considered psychologically dependent. The substance or alcohol becomes the only thing that this person can think about and it can exist without a physical addiction. This is why most addicts still experience cravings after the withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

Psychological dependence is developed with drugs and alcohol because both substances affect the nervous system, whether directly or indirectly. Drugs like cocaine, heroin and nicotine are especially addictive because they contain psychoactive chemicals. Psychoactive chemicals specifically target the part of the brain that releases dopamine, a hormone that triggers feelings of happiness. When these types of drugs hit this part of the brain, too much dopamine is released. It then creates a euphoric state, or “high,” for the user, until the drugs begin to wear off.

This moment when the drugs wear off and the dopamine levels drop is a crucial moment in addiction. The brain has been altered and damaged and, over time and extended drug use, it will lose its ability to produce dopamine without the aid of these powerful drugs. The user will then feel an extreme low and depressed. These feelings are then followed with agitation and anxiety because their brain is craving more dopamine.

Overcoming Psychological Dependence

The bottom line is that psychological dependence is caused by a damaged brain and requires both therapy and time for the brain to heal. Sobriety is the key to healing the brain. It’s important that the user learns how to identify cravings and learn to utilize tools to handle the stress of life. While attending therapy, users will also develop a plan to stay sober and prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one has a substance or alcohol addiction, there is hope and help is available. Proper and supervise detoxification and therapy are proven methods that can give you or your loved ones the best chance for total recovery and sobriety.

Related: Psychological vs. Physical Addiction