It seems that people think about physical and psychological addictions as somehow separate processes. This distinction is not quite right. Psychological dependence, physical dependence, and addiction are three different issues, but they go hand-in-hand. It is helpful to see some of the differences between them.
Physical dependence occurs when a person repeatedly uses substances. Soon the body develops tolerance and no longer reacts strongly to it. This forces a person to use increasing amounts of drugs and/or alcohol to feel initial effects. In the end, the body becomes not only accustomed to the presence of the drugs, but it also can’t function without them and in case of stopping, a person will experience intense physical reactions, such as tremors, “shakes”, chills and body aches. These are known as withdrawal symptoms. Addictions may be accompanied by physical dependence, and physical dependence suggests addiction, but there are cases when an individual may experience a physical dependence without being addicted or vice versa. For example, in the case of painkillers. The body will develop tolerance and dependence, but this does not mean addiction. Another example can be an individual who has a gambling addiction but does not have a physical dependency.
Psychological dependence is the addict’s emotional need for the substance or behavior. The body may not feel withdrawal symptoms, but an individual will struggle emotionally when letting go. When using drugs, the brain reward system is stimulated, and it ensures that behavior is repeated. Psychological dependence can be as powerful as physical dependence. Let’s take smoking marijuana as an example. While marijuana does not create a physical dependency, it has a psychological attachment. A person develops a physical and an emotional need to continue the habit. In many cases, both physical and psychological addiction is present.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease. It is not only a dependency on a substance. It also encompasses behaviors. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and behavior. Addicted persons put drug or alcohol first. They are unable to control their urge for using the substance and continue to use it despite being aware of its harmful impacts on themselves and people around them. They fail to meet essential obligations at home, work and in their relationships. Their thoughts are consumed with using drugs.