Physical vs. Psychological Addictions; The Signs of an Addiction Problem

When most people hear the word “addiction”, they picture a disheveled-looking person with needle track markings on their arms, standing outside of a busy food or shopping center begging for money. While of course this can be an accurate depiction of some persons struggling with drug addiction problems, the majority of addicted individuals are young, successful, well-groomed people who either suffer in silence or who do not realize that they have a problem with addiction or substance abuse. If you are looking for an  Addictions Counselor, look no further! I have been practicing all types of counseling, including addiction counseling, for over 30 years in the San Diego area. In this post, I will attempt to differentiate between the different types of addictions (physical and psychological) and present some warning signs that you should be on the lookout for if you suspect you or someone you know may have a problem with a drug addiction.

Defining Addiction:
“Addiction” is a word that many people use incorrectly. Often people become confused when researchers and professionals label behavioral addictions as “addictions”, because most of us believe that an addiction is indicative of a drug or alcohol dependency. This is a myth, since there are several types of behaviors that people engage in that can become addictive and hard to escape from, similar to being addicted to smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or injecting heroin. Behaviors such as gambling, sex, and video-gaming are highly addictive and can require addiction counseling treatment if they become problematic. But first, in order to understand addiction fully, I believe it is important to define the word “addiction” so that we can better understand the different types. Nearly 100% of the time, a drug addiction begins with substance abuse, or using drugs and/or alcohol in an excessive and often inappropriate manner. This includes things like drinking alcohol in the morning or by yourself to cope with unbearable thoughts or emotions, or taking marijuana to ease your stress about going to work or completing a large project. Eventually the behavior of using these substances becomes habit-forming, and it suddenly feels weird not to carry out the same rituals of using substances every day. This is where substance abuse ends and addiction begins. Having an addiction, whether it is a behavioral addiction or a substance/drug addiction, means that the person has lost control over their behavior and/or using habits. No matter how hard the person tries to stop the behavior, they seem unable to. The drug or behavior suddenly becomes all the person can think about, especially when it is not being performed or used. Addictions can be physical, psychological, or a combination of the two.

What is a Physical Addiction?
When trying to understand what is meant by having a physical addiction, think about the body becoming accustomed to receiving a certain chemical substance regularly, and then all of a sudden stopping. First, the person becomes more tolerant of the substance they are using. For example, a person who has never drank alcohol before or who rarely drinks will become intoxicated much quicker than a person who has been drinking for a longer period of time. The body has built up a tolerance to the alcohol, meaning that it requires more of the substance in order to achieve the same effect. physical addiction to alcoholOnce the body has developed a tolerance and the individual is using the substance in higher doses, the body “expects” to receive this substance regularly. If it doesn’t, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, and sleep disruption. People tend to think that withdrawal is something that only “hardcore” drug-users experience. This could not be further from the truth! For example, many people who were prescribed narcotic painkillers for severe pain become physically dependent or physically addicted to them, since they were taking them on a regular basis for an extended period of time. Even though it was not the person’s intention to become addicted, as they were not using the drug recreationally, it is still possible for that individual to go through withdrawal when the painkiller use ceases. A physical addiction is, therefore, very difficult to overcome because it requires the individual to have built up a tolerance and a dependency on the substance. Withdrawal is also known to be extremely painful and unpleasant, which can make quitting even more challenging because the individual no longer wishes to use the substance to “get high”, but rather is using it to avoid the pain and suffering that withdrawal symptoms bring.

What is a Psychological Addiction?
We hear the term “psychological addiction” most often when referring to drugs such as marijuana. While is it debatable whether marijuana has physically addictive properties, we now know that it is definitely possible to become psychologically addicted to this drug. psychological addiction counselingThis means that the use of the substance has become so habitual and integrated as part of the person’s daily life that they experience a strong desire to have the drug. This desire can become extremely powerful and has the ability to consume the person’s mind and thoughts. In serious cases, it is all that the person can think about. They have become so psychologically dependent on the drug and the feelings it produces that they may steal it or lie in order to get it.

Whether the addiction is physical, psychological, or a combination of both, the common factor is the loss of control the person feels regarding the use of the substance, and the overbearing compulsion to acquire it and use it again.

Things to Look For If You Suspect an Addiction Problem:
As stated previously, the most obvious indicator of an addiction problem is the need to have and use a specific substance. Whether you are reading this for yourself, for a friend, or out of curiosity, these are some other common signs of drug addiction that you should be aware of and on the lookout for:

Physical Signs:

  • Requiring a larger dose of the substance in order to achieve the same results (building up a tolerance to the drug)
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Changes in eating habits resulting in either weight loss or weight gain
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or uncontrollable shaking when stopping the use of the substance

Psychological Signs:

  • Hiding the substance use from friends and family or stealing money to purchase the drug
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol as a means to escape problems or relax
  • Losing interest in things that you once used to enjoy
  • Becoming forgetful, disorganized, and confused
  • Feeling unable to stop thinking about using the drug, or spending excessive amounts of time figuring out how to acquire the substance
  • Increased feelings of anxiety, irritability or depression
  • Being unable to cease using the substance, despite attempting to do so

Getting help for an addiction problem is the first step toward total recovery. While overcoming an addiction is not an easy task, it is possible! Trying to stop on your own often results in the inability to do so, which can make you feel discouraged and hopeless, and could send you into a relapse. Seeking professional help for your addiction does not mean that you are weak. In fact, most successfully recovered individuals have sought out help from a professional addiction counselor or therapist. If you ever feel that you need someone to talk to about your own addiction problems, or an addiction that a family member or friend is struggling with, please do not hesitate to give my office a call today. Together we can work to overcome the addiction through addiction counselingand therapy. Depending on your specific situation, I will be able to offer you tips and tools that you can implement into your daily life to help conquer the hold that addiction has taken on your life, allowing you to once again live a happy and healthy lifestyle. Call me at 858-481-0425 for more info.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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