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Physical and Psychological Dependence

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Physical and Psychological Dependence

Addiction is a subtle or severe craving or dependence on something (such as alcohol or drugs) and can come in many forms.

Smoking, for instance, contains nicotine. Nicotine aids and stimulates the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and it also stimulates the neuron receptors that respond to dopamine. Smoking induces a feeling of pleasure and general relaxation through this stimulation of dopamine, so we can see why the act of smoking and taking in nicotine can become addictive.

Addiction itself can be physical and/or psychological. Hence, leading you to have a physical and/or psychological dependence.

Physical and Psychological Dependence Smoking StudySmarterSmoking, Flaticon

What is the difference between physical and psychological dependence?

Addiction can be physical and/or psychological because it affects the body and mind in different ways and provides different rewards or senses of satisfaction. This occurs specifically when something is taken or engaged in excess, which activates the brain’s reward circuitry system.

Dependence is where something is reliant, and without it, you would experience withdrawal symptoms. It usually comes in the form of a scale: this can be from little to no dependence, to severe dependence.

Physical dependence

Physical dependence is where the body itself becomes dependent on a drug/substance or behaviour to achieve a sense of normality, or also the initial high associated with taking the drug. When a person stops taking the substance or engaging in the behaviour, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

It affects the body physically, down to the chemicals within the brain.

The body has a ‘normal’ state. When you take a drug or substance or even engage in a behaviour (such as gambling), it alters this state and gives you the pleasurable feeling associated with engaging in that behaviour. This is more apparent with substances such as alcohol, or more powerful drugs such as cocaine.

After drinking alcohol consistently and excessively for a set amount of time, the body needs the alcohol to feel ‘normal’, as it has adapted to this intake. It usually takes more alcohol to achieve the same effects, known as tolerance.

When you stop drinking alcohol after drinking it in excess for a set amount of time, you will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as shaky hands, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Physical and Psychological Dependence Wine Alcohol StudySmarterAlcohol, Flaticon

Psychological dependence

Psychological dependence focuses more on the mental state an addiction induces, in the sense that usually, an addiction to something allows the person to achieve a different mind state. Psychological dependence usually affects how somebody behaves, and withdrawal symptoms manifest as extreme emotional/motivational issues.

Just like the body has a normal state, the mind essentially has a normal ‘state’, too, although it’s a bit more complex than that. Psychological dependence mostly affects behaviour because a person is incapable of acting a certain way without the drugs and may struggle to stop taking a drug despite the health issues associated with it.

For example, they may take a substance to feel a sense of relaxation in times of anxiety, which can eventually result in psychological dependence on this drug to feel relaxed. Without it, they are anxious. Similarly, the behaviour of taking the drug is hard to stop. If they know they will feel anxious if they don’t take the drugs, it is hard to voluntarily submit yourself to uncomfortable feelings you could prevent by taking the drug.

What is the difference between substance-related addiction and behavioural addiction?

Substance-related addiction is where the person is taking or consuming something that alters their body and the brain’s chemical state and gives the person a rewarding feeling (usually described as a ‘high’). As seen in our example with dopamine and nicotine, the stimulation of certain neurotransmitters and pathways within the brain typically causes this. They can be physically consumed or taken through other means, entering the body as a substance.

It has a physical effect on the body and alters its chemical state.

Drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and even chocolate fall under the substance-related addiction category.

Behavioural addiction differs in that the act of engaging in a particular behaviour induces a pleasurable or relaxing feeling. Certain behavioural scientists believe, especially those involved in addiction research, that any behaviour that stimulates a person has the opportunity to become addictive, as it is directly influencing a person’s feelings (Alavi et al., 2012).

Gambling is arguably the best example of behavioural addictions, and it was recently added to the DSM-5.

Physical and Psychological Dependence Gambling StudySmarterGambling, Flaticon


Physical and Psychological Dependence - Key takeaways

  • Addiction is a subtle or severe craving or dependence on something (such as alcohol or drugs), and can come in many forms.
  • Addiction itself can be physical and/or psychological. You can have a physical and psychological dependence.
  • Dependence is where there is a reliance on something, and without it, you would experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Physical dependence is where the body itself becomes dependent on the drug/substance you’re taking to achieve a sense of normality or achieve the initial high associated with taking the drug. When you stop taking the substance or engaging in the behaviour, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychological dependence focuses more on the mental state an addiction induces, in the sense that usually, an addiction to something allows the person to achieve a different mind state. Psychological dependence usually affects how somebody behaves, and withdrawal symptoms manifest as extreme emotional/motivational issues.
  • Substance-related addiction is where the person is taking or consuming something that alters their body and the brain’s chemical state and gives the person a rewarding feeling (usually described as a ‘high’). Behavioural addiction differs in that the act of engaging in a particular behaviour induces a pleasurable or relaxing feeling.

Frequently Asked Questions about Physical and Psychological Dependence

Physical dependence is where the body itself becomes dependent on a drug/substance or behaviour to achieve a sense of normality, or also the initial high associated with taking the drug. When a person stops taking the substance or engaging in the behaviour, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.


An alcoholic is an example of physical dependence, as they are dependent on alcohol. 

Psychological dependence focuses more on the mental state an addiction induces, in the sense that usually, an addiction to something allows the person to achieve a different mind state. Psychological dependence usually affects how somebody behaves, and withdrawal symptoms manifest as extreme emotional/motivational issues.

Typically, a physical dependence results in physical withdrawal symptoms. Signs include an inability to stop despite health concerns. In someone who drinks alcohol excessively, physical dependence may manifest as shaky hands, nausea, and vomiting when they stop drinking alcohol.

Addiction is a consistent craving for a drug, substance, or behaviour, whereas dependence focuses more on the reliance on a drug, substance or behaviour. Although the two are similar and one tends to exist alongside the other. 

Final Physical and Psychological Dependence Quiz

Question

What are some examples of addiction?

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Answer

Smoking, gambling, heroin, cocaine, eating chocolate.

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Question

How can smoking be addictive?

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Answer

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which stimulates the release of dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the rewarding feeling in your brain. So, smoking induces a feeling of pleasure and relaxation, which can be addicting. 

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Question

Can you be addicted to something physically and psychologically?

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Answer

Yes.

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Question

Define dependence.

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Answer

Dependence is where something is reliant, and without it, you would experience withdrawal symptoms. It usually comes in the form of a scale: this can be from little to no dependence on something to a severe dependence on it.

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Question

Define physical dependence.

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Answer

Physical dependence is where the body itself becomes dependent on the drug/substance you're taking to achieve a sense of normality or achieve the initial high associated with taking the drug. When you stop taking the substance or engaging in the behaviour, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

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Question

What happens when the body becomes used to a certain level of a substance or behaviour?

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Answer

It has built up a tolerance, and the person would need to take or do more to achieve the same initial feeling or high.

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Question

Define psychological dependence.

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Answer

Psychological dependence focuses more on the mental state an addiction induces, in the sense that usually, an addiction to something allows the person to achieve a different mind state. Psychological dependence usually affects how somebody behaves, and withdrawal symptoms manifest as severe emotional/motivational issues.

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Question

Does psychological dependence affect a person’s behaviour?

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Answer

Yes.

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Question

Why is it hard to stop taking something if you are psychologically dependent on it?

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Answer

It is hard because, without it, a person would begin to feel withdrawal symptoms. 

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Question

What is substance-related addiction?

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Answer

Substance-related addiction is where the person is taking or consuming something that alters their body and the brain’s chemical state and gives the person a rewarding feeling (usually described as a ‘high’).  

Show question

Question

What is behavioural addiction?

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Answer

Behavioural addiction differs in that the act of engaging in a particular behaviour induces a pleasurable or relaxing feeling.  

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Question

What is an example of behavioural addiction?

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Answer

Gambling.

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Question

What happens when an addictive substance is taken in excess?

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Answer

It can activate the brain’s reward circuitry system and, if taken consistently, can result in an addiction.

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Question

What do some scientists believe about behaviours that stimulate a person, in terms of potential to form an addiction?

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Answer

Certain behavioural scientists believe, especially those involved in addiction, that any behaviour that stimulates a person has the opportunity to become addictive, as it is directly influencing a person’s feelings (Alavi et al., 2012).  

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Question

Can you be addicted to the internet?

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Answer

Yes.

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