What Is Psychological Dependence?

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Psychology is a term that describes behavioral processes linked to emotions and the mind. What is psychological dependence, then?

Psychological dependence refers to the mental and emotional processes connected to the onset, progression, and recovery from substance use disorders (addictions). While it’s possible to define psychological dependence, cognition and emotion are intricately linked to physiology. This means that there is no complete separation between body and mind. It also means that psychological dependence is equally serious as physical dependence. Read on to explore beyond the definition of psychological dependence and discover how to connect with evidence-based treatment for substance abuse.

Psychological Dependency

Psychological dependence refers to the cognitive and emotional dimensions of addictive behaviors or the withdrawal process from substances like drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications. 

Conversely, physical dependence is a condition associated with tolerance leading to the manifestation of physical withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation –  nausea, diarhhea, vomiting, hallucinations, and seizures for instance. While symptoms triggered by psychological dependence can be more variable in intensity than those associated with physical dependence, it is not possible to objectively measure a person’s distress levels, either physically or emotionally.

Beyond this, even symptoms deemed primarily psychological – cravings, for example – are linked to physiological bases and processes. Similarly, symptoms that indicate physical dependence, such as tolerance and withdrawal, are linked to psychological variables, and both categories exhibit a complex interplay between physiological and psychological factors.

A man distressed, depicting someone experiencing the symptoms of psychological dependency

What Substances Can Cause Psychological Dependence?

All addictive substances exhibit physical and psychological aspects of dependence. That said, many sources distinguish the aspects of developing an addiction (substance use disorder), categorizing substances based on whether their withdrawal symptoms are predominantly psychological. Substances associated with mainly psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Most stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, meth, and Ritalin
  • Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD
  • Marijuana products (though emerging evidence suggests a notable physical withdrawal process in those who use the drug heavily)
  • Many inhalants like whippets
  • Psychotropic medications, including antidepressants

Substances linked to the development of strong physical dependence, by contrast, include:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids like morphine, heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl
  • Benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Valium, and Ativan
  • Barbiturates like phenobarbital

Many drugs of abuse can trigger both types of withdrawal symptoms and promote both forms of dependence.

Signs of Psychological Dependence

Identifying psychological dependence involves recognizing various behavioral and emotional signs that indicate a person’s reliance on a substance. These signs may manifest during the development of a substance use disorder or when attempting to abstain from the substance. Common signs of psychological dependence include:

  • Cravings for the addictive substance.
  • Anxiety issues when attempting to cease addictive behavior.
  • Depression issues during periods of abstinence or attempts to quit.
  • Irritability and restlessness when refraining from substance use or trying to discontinue use.
  • Mood swings when not using the substance of choice or during attempts to quit.
  • Appetite changes associated with not using the substance.
  • Sleep disturbances related to quitting or not using the drug.
  • Uncertainty about the ability to stop using the substance.
  • Denial of having a substance use problem or romanticizing substance abuse.
  • Obsessive thoughts about obtaining or using the preferred substance.
  • Cognitive issues like problems with concentration, memory, and judgment.

Recognizing these signs can help people engage with treatment before issues of psychological dependence worsen. Seeking professional help and support can facilitate a comprehensive approach to address the underlying issues and promote sustained recovery. What does treatment involve, though?

Treatment for Psychological Dependence

A critical distinction between drugs associated with physical and psychological dependence lies in the withdrawal process. Drugs linked to strong physical dependence are more likely to trigger life-threatening seizures during withdrawal. Individuals recovering from substance use disorders involving these substances should undergo supervised medical detoxification to promptly address any seizure activity.

While seizures are less commonly reported in those recovering from the abuse of other substances, the approach to treating any addiction or dependency should prioritize a supervised medical detox program. This is essential because the first phase of recovery from any substance of abuse can involve significant physical and emotional distress, increasing the risk of dangerous situations such as overdose during relapse, accidents, or suicidal tendencies.

Long-term treatment for people with psychological addictions or psychological dependence is broadly similar to that indicated for those battling physical drug dependence. Thorough assessment, physician oversight, treatment for co-occurring issues, involvement in ongoing therapy, participation in support groups, support from loved ones, and engagement in supplementary therapies tailored to individual circumstances remain key components of comprehensive recovery plans for both groups.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy are examples of behavioral interventions aimed at modifying patterns of thinking and behavior associated with substance use.

One-on-one counseling sessions provide a private and supportive environment to explore underlying issues contributing to psychological dependence. Therapists work collaboratively with individuals to develop coping strategies and set realistic goals for recovery.

Participating in group therapy sessions fosters a sense of community and shared experiences. Group settings offer mutual support, encouragement, and insights into coping strategies from peers facing similar challenges. Involving family members in the therapeutic process can address interpersonal dynamics, improve communication, and create a supportive environment for recovery.

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and mindful awareness, can help people develop a heightened sense of self-awareness, emotional regulation, and coping skills. Complementary approaches like art therapy, yoga, and exercise contribute to overall well-being, promoting emotional balance and stress reduction.

Participating in support groups, such as 12-step programs or non-traditional recovery groups, provides ongoing encouragement, shared experiences, and a platform for accountability.

Informative sessions about the nature of psychological dependence, triggers, and coping mechanisms empower individuals with knowledge and skills essential for long-term recovery.

Developing a comprehensive relapse prevention plan equips people with strategies to identify and manage triggers, anticipate challenges, and maintain their commitment to recovery.

When co-occurring mental health issues contribute to psychological dependence, integrated treatment addressing both substance use and mental health is imperative. Combining various therapeutic approaches ensures a comprehensive and personalized strategy to effectively address psychological dependence and promote sustained recovery.

columbus ohio rehab downtown, where addiction treatment is available at Ohio Recovery Centers

Get Treatment for Psychological Dependence at Ohio Recovery Centers

While psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol can be extremely aggravating and disruptive it is also highly treatable. At Ohio Recovery Centers in Cincinnati, OH, we treat all types of substance use issues, including dependence, in an outpatient setting. This enables you or your loved one to get the help you need while remaining engaged with your everyday commitments. We also offer more intensive outpatient programs for those who require a more structured recovery experience.

All Ohio Recovery Centers treatment programs deliver personalized treatment plans that may include medication-assisted treatment, holistic therapies, psychotherapies, and counseling in group, individual, and family settings. To minimize the chance of relapse, all of our treatment programs also incorporate a comprehensive aftercare component. Call 877-679-2132 when you are ready to unshackle yourself from psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn