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What Is Psychological Dependence?

A woman wondering, "What is psychological dependence?"

Drug addiction affects millions of Americans each year. There are multiple factors in developing an addiction. One of the critical factors is the onset of something called psychological dependence. If you’re affected by this form of dependence, you’ve reached the threshold of clinical addiction. But what exactly is psychological dependence? The answer to this question may help you recognize when a serious drug problem has taken root. If you qualify for an addiction diagnosis, our substance abuse treatment program in Colorado can help you recover. To find out more, call us today at 888.231.1281.

Psychological Drug Dependence as a Component of Addiction

Drug addiction is a chronic illness that makes long-term changes in how your brain functions. This illness has three main components:

  • Physical drug dependence
  • Psychological drug dependence
  • Compulsive drug-seeking behavior

As a rule, physical dependence occurs first. It develops when your brain comes to physically rely on the presence of a given drug. Once this reliance or dependence exists, you can no longer stop taking that drug without consequences. Specifically, if you stop or make rapid cuts in your intake, you will develop withdrawal symptoms.

Physical dependence and withdrawal are common symptoms of addiction. However, by itself, it’s not enough to leave you addicted. Before you cross that threshold, you also become psychologically dependent. Compulsive drug-seeking follows and marks the onset of full-blown addiction.

Defining Psychological Dependence

When you’re psychologically dependent, you have an emotional need to take a given drug. This dependency isn’t just about physical cravings; it’s deeply rooted in your emotional and mental state. If you don’t take the expected amount of that drug, you will develop emotion-based withdrawal symptoms, which can be just as challenging as physical symptoms.

The exact symptoms can vary from person to person and can depend on a variety of factors, including the type of drug, the duration of use, and individual psychological makeup. However, common problems include:

  • Anxiety – You may feel an overwhelming sense of worry or fear that seems impossible to control.
  • Powerful feelings of discomfort or unease – This can manifest as a general sense of restlessness or irritability.
  • Rising stress levels – Everyday situations may become increasingly difficult to manage, causing a significant increase in stress.
  • A reduced ability to feel pleasure – Activities that once brought you joy may no longer have the same effect, leading to a condition known as anhedonia.
  • Strong cravings for the drug in question – These cravings can feel almost unbearable and can dominate your thoughts and actions.

The impact of these problems creates a compelling motivation to keep using drugs. The emotional turmoil and psychological stress make it incredibly difficult to resist the urge to take the drug. In turn, that motivation drives compulsive drug-seeking behavior, which can become the focal point of your life.

Such behavior is not voluntary. Instead, once activated, it operates on its own, often overriding logical thinking and personal goals. This cycle of dependency can create a powerful and destructive force in a person’s life, making it crucial to seek professional help and support to break free.

The Impact of Psychological Dependence on Addiction Recovery

Psychological and physical dependence both have a significant effect on the course of drug rehab. But in some ways, the psychological effects of addiction are harder to manage. For example, in drug detox, physical withdrawal symptoms typically start to fade within a matter of days. However, your psychological symptoms can last for much longer.

In fact, the majority of people in drug rehab experience something called post-acute withdrawal. This is the name for withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, months, or even longer. Almost all of the most common post-acute symptoms are psychological, not physical. These lingering symptoms can make it harder for you to recover.

Treatments for Psychological Dependence

There are various treatments available for psychological dependence, depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Here are some of the common treatment methods used for addressing psychological dependence:


Also known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy involves working with a trained therapist to identify and address underlying issues that may be contributing to psychological dependence. This can include exploring past traumas, building coping mechanisms, and developing healthier thought patterns.

Support Groups

Being part of a support group can provide a sense of community and understanding among individuals struggling with similar issues. These groups often offer a safe space for sharing experiences, advice, and encouragement.

Lifestyle Changes

Making changes to one’s daily routine, diet, exercise habits, and overall lifestyle can also play a significant role in managing psychological dependence. This may include incorporating stress management techniques, practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, and establishing healthy boundaries.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For individuals struggling with both psychological dependence and a co-occurring mental health disorder, dual diagnosis treatment can be beneficial. This approach addresses both conditions simultaneously and provides a more comprehensive treatment plan.

Get Help for Psychological Drug Dependence at Northpoint Colorado

Need help for psychological dependence and other addiction indicators? Talk to the professionals at Northpoint Colorado. We offer a full slate of services to support your recovery.

Treatment begins with our inpatient drug detox program, which you can follow up with enrollment in our inpatient rehab. We also have outpatient services available. Each step of the way, you’ll receive help that targets psychological dependence and helps you stay sober long-term. For more information on how we can help, call us today at 888.231.1281 or fill out our online contact form.