Mental vs physical addiction. What are the differences? We are in a full-blown drug and alcohol abuse epidemic. According to a survey published in 2017 by the NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), of the 140.6 million Americans aged 12 or older, 66.6 million of them were binge drinkers in the past month and 16.7 million were heavy drinkers in the past month. On top of that, 30.5 million people aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug in the past month. The rates of co-occurring major depressive episodes were higher amongst those who had used drugs versus those who did not.

The discussion surrounding mental vs physical addiction has always been divisive. Many people believe that addiction is a choice. In the barest technical sense, this is true. Conversely, sobriety is also a choice. More importantly, though, is understanding the differences between physical and psychological addiction.

Mental vs Physical Addiction

Psychological addiction is in essence, an overwhelming desire to indulge or give into a temptation to use a substance. This is typically fueled by some extreme lack that is thought to be filled momentarily by drug usage. Physical addiction is much more easily understood by the general public than the seemingly ambiguous psychological reasons in which people become mentally addicted to drugs. It should come as no surprise that older generations had less productive and sympathetic attitudes towards mental illness. According to a CDC report, attitudes towards mental illness are becoming significantly better. However, many people polled felt that attitudes towards mental illness were not very sympathetic. This is likely due to lag in legislation and a mainstay of old cultural beliefs permeated through our culture that have yet to be changed.

The recent explosion in popularity of therapies such as CBT or the promotion of mindfulness meditation lends credence to the idea that craving is first and foremost, in the mind. Before someone becomes physiologically addicted to a drug, there is a strong mental component that is present in the vast majority of addicts. This component is typically some trauma or psychological wound that demands suppression and substances are a coping mechanism.

Physical Dependence

Physical addiction is fairly straightforward compared to psychological dependence. There is a potent drug that is used continually, and it becomes difficult to quit the drug because the body becomes reliant upon it. If you start to experience withdrawal symptoms, you are addicted to the drug. The issue with most illegal drugs is that they are highly addictive and it does not take much use at all to start to become physically addicted, hence they are illegal. Withdrawal symptoms can quickly go from pain, headache, nausea, to life-threatening with seizures and delirium tremens (DTs) in the case of alcohol.

Addiction Changes the Brain

Modern science has illuminated the fact that heavy drug use changes the brain itself. The majority of addictive drugs are flooding the brain with dopamine or messing with the reward circuit in the brain in some manner. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates a whole host of features in the mind, but the most important is the reinforcement of behavior.

Ordinarily, dopamine is supposed to be released when a person engages in behaviors that are good for them. The issue is when it is released in response to unproductive or downright destructive habits such as binge eating or drinking. Studies show that heavy drug use changes the way the brain works in regards to decision-making ability, learning, memory and impulse control.

Lumiere Recovery Approach

Lumiere Healing Centers know that recovery requires a holistic approach—from detox to addiction counseling, our team of highly experienced individuals has guided many people towards recovery. We are personally invested in the recovery and guidance of all of our patients. If you or a loved one is in the grips of addiction and are seeking not just a recovery facility, but an emotional support system as well, visit our contact page or give us a call at (513)-909-2225 to get started on the road to recovery today.