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Marc L Feldman, Psy.D., CAADC

Physical Vs. Psychological Addiction

Clients with whom I work often make a distinction between physical addiction and psychological addiction. For example, they may say, "I'm not physically addicted to pot, but I'm psychologically addicted to it." Usually, this distinction is made to separate physical symptoms, such as pain, nausea, and vomiting, that one may experience from the withdrawal of opiates, from feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability, that one may experience from the withdrawal of cocaine, or even nicotine. However, psychological symptoms are caused by chemical changes that are occurring in the brain from the use/abuse of, and subsequent removal of any substance that has mood altering effects. Thus, psychological addictions are, in reality, physical addictions, which can become especially problematic when the purpose behind one's use is self-medication, as not only will the symptoms return when one stops using the substance, but in most cases, the symptoms increase. When evaluating your own substance use, it is important not to measure the severity of the problem by how severe one's withdrawal symptoms are, or whether they are physical or psychological.  What is most important is how the use of the substance is impacting the important parts of your life, such as your relationships, your job, legal problems, or general physical and psychological well-being.  

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