Psychological Dependence

Psychological Dependence: Definition & How To Deal With It

Psychological Dependence: Definition & How To Deal With It


Each psychological and emotional process has a physiological basis. And every behavior that is not simply reflex action has a vital emotional and psychological component. Therefore, thinking of mind and body as two separated entities leads to unrealistic and incorrect ways of looking at any behavior type. It is mostly seen in cases of substance use disorders and process additions. 

For instance, claiming that “gambling addiction is not a choice’’ is equally wrong as claiming it is a choice. Human beings are too complex to say their behavior is “entirely physical” or “entirely psychological”. To truly understand how addictive behavior develops, both physical and psychological dependence will need to be considered. 

Psychological Dependence Definition

Psychological dependence is a term used to describe the emotional and mental processes associated with development. And recovery from a substance use disorder or process addiction. It must be viewed as a combination of emotions and cognitions, as they intertwine in their existence. 

When talking about psychological dependence, most cases refer to the cognitive and emotional aspects of addictive behaviors or withdrawing from drug or alcohol use. This is quite different from attempting to classify certain substances or activities as addictive either in a physiological or physical way. 

Psychological Dependence Symptoms

There are several symptoms associated with the psychological components of any type of addictive behavior (psychological dependence). Not every person will have all of these symptoms and some of them will be expressing them mildly, while others more than that. People with psychological dependence will often have cravings, mostly food-related ones. Also, they might have anxiety issues that occur each time someone tries to stop their addictive behavior. Instead of anxiety, a person can have depression issues when not being able to proceed with their addictive behavior due to someone or something. 

They might also struggle with sleeping well as their sleep often is disrupted when trying to stop consuming the substance or it’s not available to a person. When not consuming or trying to quit their addiction, whichever it might be, they will probably feel irritability and restlessness. A wide variety of moods might happen each time a person is not able to use their substance of choice or is trying to quit. These mood swings are usually quite obvious externally, too. 

Besides how they feel, their behavior will change significantly as well. For instance, they will have issues with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and judgment in general. When talking about physical dependence, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, seizures, diarrhea, hallucinations are quite common. 

Substances In Psychological Dependence

It’s considered that all substances of abuse are associated with both psychological and physical aspects of dependence. Yet, numerous sources are separating the aspects related to the development of a substance use disorder and withdrawing from it into substances associated with withdrawal symptoms which are psychological. Usually, they include: 

  • Most stimulants, which include cocaine and Ritalin
  • Most hallucinogenic drugs (e.g. LSD)
  • Cannabis products
  • Numerous inhalant products
  • Numerous psychotropic medications (e.g. antidepressant medications)

When talking about substances relate to the development of strong physical dependence usually include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opiate drugs – heroin, morphine, Vicodin, etc.
  • Benzodiazepines – Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.
  • Barbiturates – Seconal and phenobarbital.

Psychological Dependence Treatment 

The use of drugs that are considered to lead to physical dependence, such as alcohol, barbiturates. And benzodiazepines, can lead to the development of potentially fatal seizures. Yet, this generally doesn’t occur with withdrawal from opiate drugs, which are considered to be very physically addicting. 

Individuals with a substance use disorder will need to be strictly monitored by a physician or psychiatrist specialized in addiction medicine during their recovery. Such level of care and caution is required to be able to identify and potential seizure activity and if it occurs, act on time and help the individual. When treating any substance use disorder, the initial program of physician-assisted withdrawal management is essential for recovery. 

This type of approach is recommended because initial recovery from any substance of abuse can be intertwined with emotional and physical distress that might lead to dangerous scenarios for the person. Examples of such dangerous scenarios are overdosing during a relapsed, being involved in accidents, or trying to commit suicide. 

When compared to those with physical addition or physical dependence, individuals with psychological dependence will not have much difference in the overall plan of recovery. It will be required that they are thoroughly assessed, guided by a physician. And treat for any issues that might appear as a consequence of their substance use. Also, they are often involved in substance use disorder therapy, which is crucial for their recovery. 

Most of the time, they will also get involved in social support groups or seek support from their family and friends. Understanding how challenging and frustrating at the time the recovery process can be. A strong support system is essential to recover.


Without a doubt, psychological dependence is associated with various emotional and cognitive symptoms. By separating physical dependence from psychological dependence, enormous damage is done in understanding this condition and, more importantly, in treating it. Treatment of any substance use disorder must be seen as with both emotional and cognitive symptoms.  

While psychological dependence is definitely associated with both emotional and cognitive symptoms. Physical dependence is usually associated with tolerance development and withdrawal symptoms that are not emotional nor cognitive. 

To understand addictive behavior means to accept the interplay of both emotional and cognitive mechanisms. Any treatment that aims to help a person recover from substance use disorder should be holistic in nature and consider all possible treatment options that lead to recovery. And, although the recovery plan might be long, frustrating. And scary, many individuals have successfully recovered from psychological dependence and are now enjoying their lives with their loved ones.

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