Types of addictions: physical vs psychological

In our last article, we talked about two different types of addictions; physical and behavioural. This article will discuss another way to answer the question, ‘what are the types of addictions.’. Instead of looking at the substances or activities that addicts can become addicted to, we will try and understand how addicts get addicted.

The different ways addicts present themselves

For purposes of this explanation, we will use marijuana as an example. However, there are other addictions that face similar levels of divergence in thoughts

If you google marijuana, you will find very contrasting views, particularly if you google whether it’s addictive. On the one hand, some people claim that it is a harmless drug with numerous benefits and that it does not lead to addiction. On the other hand, you will see stories of people who have been addicted to marijuana and find many articles talking about how addictive it is and how harmful it is.

How can one substance have such differing views? It is likely because the addiction to marijuana does not look the same as the addiction to another substance traditionally considered addictive. Similarly, the recovery process may not look similar. This contrast is the reason some people minimize the seriousness of some addictions over others.

A quick note on withdrawals

As we mentioned in the previous article, our bodies constantly strive for equilibrium. This state of equilibrium is called homeostasis. In an addict’s case, having their drug of choice becomes part of their state of equilibrium. In the case of a physical addiction (addictions to substances ingested in the body), the body goes into withdrawal and the addict begins to get cravings, with is just a signal from the body that something is missing.

This is why someone may have decided to quit something, but they talk about having strong cravings for it. We will talk more about withdrawals in a future article

The two different types of addiction

The different ways addicts become addicted give rise to two different types of addictions; physical and psychological addictions.

Let’s look at each type individually

Physical addictions

In this case, a physical addiction affects the addict’s body. When an addict with a physical addiction stays without their drug/substance of choice, they get uncomfortable physical symptoms. Their use is therefore geared towards avoiding these uncomfortable symptoms.

The body may be unable to or have great difficulty functioning without the drug. The result is that the addict has withdrawal symptoms. Physical addictions mostly occur in people with physical addictions, i.e., people with addictions to substances ingested in the body.

Withdrawals from physical addictions.

People with physical addictions will often have physical withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Tremors,
  • Diarrhoea, etc.

Addicts with physical addictions may also have psychological withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and mood swings alongside the physical withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological addictions

Psychological addictions affect the addict’s behaviour. Addicts with a psychological addiction use their substance or activity of choice to maintain their emotional well-being and mental health. You may hear statements like;

  1. It helps me stay calm
  2. I can’t sleep without it
  3. I need it to hang out with my friends, e.t.c.

When someone with a psychological addiction stops using their drug of choice, they will likely encounter no physical withdrawal symptoms. They will, however, still crave their addiction of choice because they believe they need it to fulfil a particular purpose.

Withdrawals from a psychological addiction

An addict withdrawing from their drug/behaviour of choice may become obsessed with it because they believe they need it.

Psychological addictions withdrawals can leave someone anxious and depressed

Some symptoms of psychological addiction withdrawal include;

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety, e.t.c.

Physical addiction vs psychological addiction

Summary of differences between a physical and psychological addiction

Can someone have both types of addictions?

If you have been around an addict while they are withdrawing, you may already have concluded that someone can have both a physical and a psychological addiction simultaneously. This is true. In many cases, someone with a physical addiction will have both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they are going through withdrawal.

This process helps the body adjust to not having the drug of choice in its system. If the addiction was not severe, the body could detoxify itself quickly and safely. However, in the case of severe addiction, health practitioners may give patients drugs that aid the body in detoxification.

This withdrawal period can be very challenging and sometimes medical practitioners advise addicts to be sequestered e.g. in rehabilitation centres or be monitored throughout the process. This is especially true if the addict has symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations and may therefore be a danger to themselves and others.

Why does the type of addiction matter?

Knowing the type of addiction is important because it helps health practitioners and addicts or the loved ones of addicts decide on the best way forward when it comes to recovering. In most cases, people with a physical addiction need to undergo detoxification.

How was my withdrawal period?

In a future article, I will talk about my struggles with addiction, particularly to marijuana. When I was withdrawing from marijuana, two things were startlingly clear; my addiction was both a physical and a psychological one. However, it was predominantly a psychological addiction.

When recovering from the addiction, I faced some psychological symptoms like mood swings, irritability, and obsessive thinking. Some of my physical symptoms included sleep issues and appetite problems, but they did not last very long.

To sum it up

There are two ways addicts can become addicted. You know an addict has a physical addiction if they get physical withdrawal symptoms following cessation of use. You know they have a psychological addiction if they use the drug to maintain their wellbeing. Understanding the difference between the two types can help those involved guide the addict to receive the most effective intervention method.

12 thoughts on “Types of addictions: physical vs psychological”

  1. Muraguri mwaniki Josee

    Simple candid writing that clearly spins my mind into introspection…its so easy to be addicted especially psychologically, without even noticing…the “making Me calm ” part as well as the “To hang out with friends ” was so me …
    Thanks and keep on writing…
    All the best…

    1. Thanks Muraguri for commenting.
      And you’re right, psychological addictions have a way of establishing themselves so insidiously that you only notice when they’ve taken hold. It’s really important for us to be vigilant

  2. Very educative. Have made away with a few words. Now I will sequester myself after raising my thumb and saying kudos!

  3. This article is well structured and I haven’t read anything as quite interesting and engaging for a while, and I practically have the attention spam of a 5 Yr old? what a hidden gem.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for the compliment. ????
      I hope to make future articles just as engaging and informative.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top