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When asked, most people can give a brief description of what addiction is. It’s even fair to say that many people may be or know someone who has struggled at one point with an addiction or dependence problem. But did you know that when a person is battling addiction, they’re very likely fighting two different types of the same addiction at once – Physical and Psychological. The line between the two isn’t always the clearest, and they can sometimes overlap – but the easiest way to tell the difference between psychological addiction and physical addiction is to think of it as one being controlled by the mind, and the other being controlled by the body.

What is Physical Addiction?

Physical addiction occurs when the body becomes so accustomed to a substance on a chemical level that it can no longer function properly without that substance. Over time, the body builds what is known as a tolerance to a certain substance, which causes it to grow to need more and more of it to meet the same need. Because the body becomes so used to having so much of that substance in it, once a person starts to cut that supply off, the body begins to react negatively to no longer having what it grew used to. This is what most people know as withdrawal. The effects of withdrawal can vary depending on the person and the substance – but can range from mild symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches… to more severe symptoms, such as seizures, and delirium tremens. Signs of physical addiction:

  • Building a tolerance – constantly requiring a larger dose to receive the same desired effect
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Changes in eating habits that result in weight loss/gain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or uncontrollable shaking when stopping the substance

What is the treatment for Physical Addiction?

Because the body and substance become so intertwined with physical addiction, the safest and most effective way to break that bond is through a detoxification process. The goal is to reverse the tolerance the body has built-up towards that substance. Take alcohol detox for example. Alcohol detox involves weaning the body off of alcohol by slowly lowering the dose until alcohol is no longer needed, while also reducing or avoiding the effects of withdrawal. This treatment is safest and most effective under professional and medical supervision.

What is Psychological Addiction?

Psychological addiction is a little more complicated than physical. Whereas the cause-of, and treatment of physical addiction might seem straight-forward, psychological addiction takes a lot more effort to understand. Psychological addiction can occur without a person having a physical need for a drug but rather a mental desire for it. This often manifests itself when the use of a substance becomes so habitual and such a part of a person’s daily life that it becomes all they can think about. Psychological addiction comes with it’s own set of symptoms, such as: cravings, irritability, insomnia, and depression. What makes psychological addictions so much more difficult to conquer than physical addictions, is that it isn’t a matter of weaning yourself away from it – it’s a matter of discovering the root problem that lead a person to use in the first place, and then learning how to overcome those obstacles.Signs of Psychological Addiction:

  • Unable to stop thinking about using the substance or how to acquire more
  • Increased feelings of anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Using to relax or to escape from problems
  • Losing interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Hiding substance use from family and friends or stealing money to buy more.

What is the treatment for Psychological Addiction?

Psychological addiction is much more difficult to treat than physical addiction. While detox can help to reduce the body’s desire for a substance, detox doesn’t cure the mind’s desire for it. Even if your body can function without something, the cravings are often still there. This is where most professionals agree with the approach of holistic rehabilitation programs. Rehabilitation programs offer those with addictions a safe and controlled environment to explore and treat the root problems of their addiction. They also foster the necessary skills needed to cope-with and avoid future temptations.

Now What?

Now that you know the different ways addiction can present itself, it’s important to watch for the signs. If you or someone you know might be suffering from an addiction, the first step is to get help. The fact is, the vast majority of successful recoveries aren’t done alone, they’re done with a strong support system, and the guidance of professionals in the field of addiction and rehabilitation.