The Truth About Physical & Psychological Dependence

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Do you know the difference between physical dependence and psychological addiction? It’s common for people to use the term “addiction” when they’re talking about dependence and addiction, but they aren’t the same. 

Physical dependence is a condition that happens when your body gets used to having a drug in its system. When you stop using that drug, you get sick and crave using it again.

Psychological addiction is a set of behaviors that center around getting and using drugs. These behaviors cause problems for the drug user, such as trouble at work or loss of relationships. 

You can be both dependent and addicted, and many people are. But you can also be dependent on drugs without being addicted, or you can be addicted without having a dependence. In fact, many people get addicted to drugs that don’t cause dependence, such as cannabis. 

Here’s what you need to know about physical vs. psychological addiction: 


Physical dependence is a condition in which your body craves a certain drug. It happens when you take a dependence-causing drug in large amounts or for a long time. Once your body gets used to the drug, it expects the drug to be there all the time. 

If you don’t take a new dose of the drug before the last dose wears off, dependence causes withdrawal symptoms to happen. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and painful. 

Dependence symptoms depend on the drug that you’re withdrawing from. They can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns 
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes 
  • Nausea
  • Seizures 
  • Vomiting

Many street drugs cause dependence, including:

  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ketamine

Some prescription drugs cause dependence too. They include: 

  • Antidepressants such as Cymbalta and Zoloft 
  • Antipsychotics such as Lamictal 
  • Barbiturate medications that treat insomnia, such as Sonata
  • Benzodiazepine medications that treat seizures and anxiety, such as Ativan 
  • Opioid pain medications such as Vicodin and Percocet 
  • Stimulant medications that treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Ritalin

These are not complete lists of drugs that cause dependence. If you have questions about what drugs cause dependence, check with your doctor or pharmacist. 

Alcohol can cause very strong dependence. In fact, withdrawing from alcohol can cause seizures. It can also cause delirium tremens, which is fatal in one-third of cases. It’s very important to withdraw from alcohol under medical care because of this.


Psychological addiction is a behavior pattern that makes you want to use more drugs, even when drug abuse has a negative impact on your life. 

Many people have both addiction and dependence. However, some people are addicted to drugs that don’t cause dependence, such as cannabis or LSD. You can even be addicted to things that aren’t drugs, such as food or video games. 

Addiction doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting or seizures, but it can lead to damage in other ways. You might make bad decisions in the name of getting more drugs, or keep using drugs even though it affects your health. 

Some of the most common addiction symptoms include: 

  • Using drugs even when it’s causing health, life, or social problems
  • Spending too much time getting, using, and recovering from using drugs
  • Choosing drugs over responsibilities, relationships, and work 
  • Using drugs to relieve stress
  • Taking part in risky behavior to get and use drugs
  • Using larger doses as time goes on

If you have any of these symptoms, you could be addicted to drugs. It can be hard to overcome the behavior that makes you use drugs. It’s even harder if you’re both addicted and dependent. Don’t be afraid to get help at a treatment center for drug abuse. 


You can think of dependence and addiction as being two sides of the same coin. They’re both conditions that make you want to use drugs, but they affect your body in different ways. 

Dependence affects your behavior by making you uncomfortable when you don’t use drugs. Addiction affects your behavior by changing your thought processes so that drugs are your main priority. 

Both conditions can be treated in different ways. Dependence can be treated with medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms. Addiction often requires ongoing treatment in the form of therapy. Some addicts always consider themselves in treatment. If you’re both dependent and addicted, then multiple treatments might be part of your recovery plan.

Just remember that dependence and addiction aren’t mutually exclusive. Plenty of people experience both. 


Yes, you can be addicted to drugs without being dependent. You can become addicted to anything that activates the reward system of your brain. 

This means that drugs that don’t cause dependence can still make you develop an addiction. For instance, some people seek treatment for cannabis abuse disorder even though cannabis doesn’t cause withdrawal or dependence. 

Some drugs that can cause addiction without causing dependence include:

  • Cannabis
  • Ecstasy  
  • LSD
  • Mushrooms


Whether you’re addicted or dependent, the end result is the same. You need treatment so you can get into recovery. 

A substance abuse treatment center can give you the help you need. The right center offers a range of treatment options. So, whether you have a dependency, an addiction, or both, there’s always an effective choice at hand. 

Addiction Treatment Options

  • Contingency management therapy: This therapy uses incentives to help you meet your recovery goals. You’ll receive gift cards for clean drug tests or reaching a treatment milestone. 
  • Family therapy: If you have supportive family at home, then family therapy is a great way to include them in your recovery. Your family can learn how to support you and help hold you accountable. And you can learn how your substance abuse disorder affects them. 
  • Group therapy: Social support is an important part of substance abuse recovery. Attending group therapy is a good way to meet and socialize with other people who are going through the same challenges as you. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment: Medication isn’t available to treat every kind of withdrawal. But for people going through opioid or alcohol withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a valuable tool to manage your detox process. 
  • Inpatient treatment: Starting the treatment process inpatient allows you to focus on getting better without the distractions of everyday life. It also lets you go through tough withdrawal symptoms under medical care. 
  • Outpatient treatment: Many patients switch to outpatient treatment after they are stable. Look for a center that offers both so you don’t have to switch providers midway into your recovery. 

A mix of talk therapies, medication, and inpatient or outpatient treatment gives you the foundation that you need to take charge of your recovery. Your substance abuse recovery could start tomorrow. Don’t wait to make the call when your sobriety is on the line! 

Written by
Recovering Champions Editorial Team

Published on: September 9, 2019 | Edited on: August 17, 2022

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