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The Difference Between Physical vs. Psychological Dependence

When it comes to addiction, there is a big difference between physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence impacts your body while psychological dependence impacts your behavior. When it comes to addiction, a person may become both psychologically and physically dependent on a drug. 

When looking at physical vs psychological dependence it’s important to know the different signs and symptoms of each. Together, they can create major problems for you and your loved ones. Becoming dependent on a drug usually means that addiction is right around the corner. Being dependent means that you’ll begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not being used. 

As time goes on, dependence can end up making it hard to quit using a drug once you’ve become addicted. Knowing the difference between physical vs psychological dependence and possible treatment options can be very useful when it’s time to get help. At Harmony Place, we provide several therapies and treatment options for you and your loved ones. Don’t wait to get help!

A Look at Physical Dependence and Its Symptoms

In all cases of drug or alcohol abuse, there are symptoms and physical effects on the body and mind. These effects can vary depending on the quantity abused and the type of drug being used. Over time, drugs can end up changing the chemistry in a person’s brain. The biggest difference between physical vs psychological dependence is that physical dependence is something a person physically feels or experiences. 

When a person becomes physically dependent and they stop using the drug, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. There are withdrawal symptoms that vary depending on the drug the person is addicted to. With this in mind, there are a few general withdrawals that are common among many drugs. These symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Trembling 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Agitation or anger

Nausea and Vomiting

Vomiting and nausea is a common withdrawal effect of many drugs. A mix of dehydration and malnutrition can be to blame for vomiting or an upset stomach. The physical symptoms of many drug addiction typically include some level of stomach pains or vomiting/nausea. Nausea and vomiting is specifically a physical issue which once again shows the difference between physical vs psychological dependence. 


Seizures are some of the most intense withdrawal symptoms that occur from physical dependence. They are described as uncontrollable and sudden disturbances in the brain’s wave pattern. If you or a loved one is experiencing seizures, contact medical attention immediately.  

Many symptoms are less problematic than seizures, such as watery eyes, or sweating. These physical symptoms help define the line between physical vs psychological dependence. However, even if these aren’t as problematic, they are clear indicators that an addiction has developed. Over time these symptoms may worsen and other more severe ones might take their place. 


Depression is a common withdrawal effect of dependence and drug addiction. It is considered a physical symptom of drug addiction (specifically withdrawals). In general, mood swings (anger, sadness, etc.) are part of the withdrawal process. Depression is defined as constant feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. This emotional disturbance can create problems before and after treatment. Sometimes depression can make quitting extremely tough since people may drink when they get depressed. This ends up causing a vicious cycle of drug abuse. 


When it comes to physical vs psychological dependence, trembling is considered a physical symptom. Trembling is described as uncontrollable shaking. Those who quit using drugs like heroin or cocaine might experience trembling and intense shaking as a result. Trembling is just one of many different physical symptoms associated with physical dependence. 

Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia and lack of sleeping are another set of typical physical dependency signs. Getting the right amount of sleep is important in a person’s day-to-day life. Insomnia and other sleeping problems can end up causing other adverse effects on a person’s life. Addiction is said to affect a person’s sleeping patterns as well as other parts of their day-to-day life. Lack of sleep (insomnia) is a physical trait when it comes to comparing physical vs psychological addiction. 

Agitation and Anger

As mentioned before, mood swings are usually a big part of a person’s addiction. It is not uncommon to see addicts dealing with constant anger or agitation. When discussing physical vs psychological dependence, anger/agitation is regarded as a physical symptom of addiction. Anger during addiction usually happens because the person may feel hopeless or frustrated that they may never be able to overcome their addiction. While it may be tough to recover from addiction, it is completely possible with the right help and attitude. 

A Look Psychological Dependence and Its Symptoms

Psychological dependence on the other hand affects how someone behaves. Many people don’t realize that addiction is more than just physical symptoms and health problems. Addiction can completely change how a person acts and behaves. These behaviors can come about when a person has become dependent on a drug. Their entire life may revolve around getting and using the drug. It’s important to know the differences between physical vs psychological dependence so you can get proper help for yourself or a loved one

A few common psychological symptoms include the following:

  • Unable to control drug usage
  • Using drugs to deal with life’s stresses
  • Continuing to use drugs even if they cause harm
  • Building a tolerance to a drug (using larger doses)
  • Getting defensive or making excuses for drug use

Using Drugs Even if They’re Causing Harm

Oftentimes, a person may continue to abuse a drug even if problems begin to arise. These could be health effects or social problems at home or work. This tends to happen when a person has become completely dependent on the drug and cannot stop using it. This is why it’s important to turn to medical professionals and a rehab center you can trust like Harmony Place. 

Building a Tolerance to the Drug

Tolerance occurs when a person must use the drug at larger doses to get the desired effect. This usually makes the situation worse (healthy-wise and socially). Additionally, using a drug at larger doses opens the door for possible overdose or other worse health effects. This is considered a psychological symptom because it is a result of the brain’s interaction with the drug. 

Unable to Control Drug Usage

One of the most apparent symptoms of addiction is not being to control your drug use. This psychological symptom can make it really hard to quit once an addiction has developed. This is a clear psychological symptom in terms of physical vs psychological dependence. Some may feel like they’ll never be able to stop using the drug. However, with the right help and guidance getting clean is possible.  

Using Drugs to Deal with Life’s Stresses

One of the main reasons people turn to drugs or alcohol is to cope with stress and problems in their life. A person may see drugs or alcohol as the only way to cope with these stresses. However, what tends to happen is dependence and addiction can end up forming – which causes much bigger problems and stresses. This behavior is characterized as a psychological symptom of dependency. If a loved one is constantly turning towards drugs to deal with their stresses, it may be time to get help. 

Getting Defensive or Making Excuses for Drug Use

A common psychological symptom of dependence is making excuses or getting defensive about your drug use. When a person becomes addicted to a drug they may go to far lengths to be able to use it again. This can mean being deceptive or making excuses to loved ones or friends. This only makes the situation worse and justifies further use of the drug. This is a clear psychological symptom in terms of physical vs psychological dependence.

Dealing with Withdrawal Symptoms 

Both the psychological and physical symptoms of dependency can be stressful and problematic. Fortunately, there are different ways you can cope with these feelings and thoughts. Getting the right treatment and practicing the right lifestyle changes is crucial. When it comes down to physical vs psychological dependence, both can be just as stressful in the long run. 

Here are a few tips you can try to use while getting treatment or if you are starting life after recovery. 

  • Exercise 
  • Staying hydrated
  • Picking up hobbies and interests
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Eating healthy (lots of protein and proper vitamins)
  • Speaking with a friend, family member, or specialist

These practices can help you live a better and healthier life. While they may seem simple enough, you’ll be surprised what a healthy mind and body can do for your cravings and urges. Staying committed to a balanced routine can make all the difference, regardless of physical vs psychological addiction.

Start the Journey at Harmony Place

There are many different symptoms between physical vs psychological dependence. Physical dependence affects the body while psychological dependence affects a person’s behavior. Both can be extremely problematic and will only worsen through addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s time to get help. Contact us today to start your journey towards a healthier, cleaner life.