Reviewed By

Addiction Treatment

What is the Difference Between Physical Dependence and Psychological Dependence?

The difference between physical dependence versus psychological dependence is that physical dependence affects your body and psychological dependence affects your behavior. 

Depending on the addiction, it was previously thought to be either one or the other. In actuality, addiction is both physical and psychological. Here at Sana Lake Rehab in St. Louis, MO, we have a great detox program that will help you and your body recover physically and psychologically. 

Yes, there is a difference between physical dependence versus psychological dependence.  Physical dependence is considered tolerance and withdrawal. Psychological dependence is the dependence on the drugs or the substance of choice. 

Physical Dependence

Physical addiction dependence versus psychological addiction dependence has some clear distinctions.  Physical addiction manifests itself in a physical way affecting the body. Physical addiction dependency is chemical level changes in the brain that are changed by the addictive chemicals in the drugs.  In time, drugs change the chemistry of the brain. 

Physical addictive dependence can include withdrawal symptoms such as: 

  • Depression 
  • Anger 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Gastro-Abdominal issues 
  • Trembling 
  • Seizures 


Depression is a symptom of withdrawalDepression or a doubtful attitude can be problematic when trying to go to recovery to get helpHaving a moody disposition is also a symptom of withdrawal. This is a common physical addictive dependency versus a psychological dependency. 


Angry outbursts are another symptom of a physical addictive dependency versus psychological addictive dependency. Angry outbursts can be caused by frustration when the person is feeling helpless, and they feel the substance they are on is too strong to overcome. The user would need to get professional help to deal with sobriety and help with angry outbursts. 

Lack of Sleep

Insomnia or lack of sleep is another physical addictive dependency attribute versus the psychological dependency attribute. Insomnia can lead to other health problems. Sleep is important to maintain a healthy life. 

Gastro-abdominal Issues

In physical dependence, gastro-abdominal issues can occur. Constipation and diarrhea are two effects that physically manifest themselves. Having diarrhea can cause dehydration which can lead to other health problems. 


When being asked, the difference between physical dependence versus psychological dependence, trembling might come up as a symptom of physical dependenceTrembling is uncontrolled shaking. One cause of trembling is substance abuse. This is a physical addictive dependence attribute.   


Seizures are a physical dependence withdrawal symptom.  If you or a loved one are having seizures, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  Seizures are sudden and uncontrolled actions disturbing the brain wave pattern. 

Even less problematic discomforts, such as sweating and teary eyes, are both attributes of physical addictive dependence versus psychological addictive dependence. 

It was once imagined in the community that substances like marijuana or nicotine were not physically addictive. That thought process was because there were no withdrawal symptoms. This is just not the case. Symptoms like lethargy, gloominess, fits of anger, trouble sleeping and difficulty eating patterns are all real symptoms. They are all symptoms of withdrawal and associated with these substances.   

Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence versus physical dependence is the way one behaves.  Some psychological dependencies are: 

  • Not capable of stopping drug usage 
  • Abusing drugs even when health problems arise 
  • Using narcotics to deal with life’s problems 
  • Obsession 
  • Taking a gamble 
  • Taking larger doses 

Not Capable of Stopping Drug Usage

Not being able to stop drug usage is a common symptom of psychological dependency versus physical dependency. This is a behavior that is symptomatic of psychological dependency. You and your body are dependent on that substance. 

Abusing Drugs Even When Health Problems Arise

The inability to stop using drugs even after health problems arise is another symptom of psychological dependency versus physical dependency. Here at Sana Lake, we offer several programs that can help each patient individually. One such program is our Partial Hospitalization program. 

Using Narcotics to Cope with Life’s Problems

When someone uses narcotics to cope with life’s problems, it is a symptom of psychological dependence rather than physical dependence. When someone is using narcotics to deal with life’s general ups and downs there is a dependency on that drug. This proves to be an unhealthy relationship between the substance and the person.  


Obsession is a form of psychological dependencyObsession is when someone is infatuated with the substance they are usingIn this situation, the only thing that matters is getting the substance and using the substanceThis can lead a person to do things they would not normally do. 

Taking a Gamble

Drug use can make you take a gamble in life’s decisions. This is a symptom of psychological dependency versus physical dependency. Taking a gamble means doing things that you would not normally do. These risks can include trading sexual favors for the substance and even stealing to get your substance.   

Taking Larger Doses

Taking larger doses of a drug or substance is an effect of psychological dependence, not physical dependence. Once your brain is used to the effects of the substance of choice, it requires the person to take larger and larger doses to get the same initial effect.  This causes intensified withdrawal symptoms. 

There is also an overlapping of symptoms of psychological effects and physical effects.  An example of one of these effects of overlapping symptoms is to redirect your food budget to buy the substance in question, which is a psychological effect.  However, by doing this, you are unable to consume enough nutrients which in turn has a physical effect.

Social Symptoms

Addiction can cause various adverse social symptoms.  Some of these social symptoms are: 

  • Forfeiting activities 
  • Discarding hobbies 
  • Solitude 
  • Denial 
  • Excessive consumption 
  • Having stashes 
  • Legal issues 
  • Financial difficulties 

Forfeiting Activities

When you forfeit activities that were usually enjoyed before drug use, it is an implication of the social symptoms of an addict. These activities or events, that previously brought joy, are now looked sourly upon due to the substance not being available. 

Discarding Hobbies

When hobbies like boating, fishing or crafting no longer have a place in your life as it did before, it is a sign of dependence on substance abuse. When drugs take over and they are more important than hobbies previously enjoyed this is a social implication of dependency. 


The desire to be alone is another social symptom of addictionThe reason for wanting to be alone can be because of shame or just the substance taking over one’s lifeTo combat addiction, it would be helpful to have loved ones help you overcome and be a part of your recovery life.    


Refusing to believe there is an addiction problem is another social addict symptom. Believing the person can relinquish the substance at any time is another social symptom of an addiction. This may cause a reluctance to get help. 

Excessive Consumption and Having Private Stashes

Consuming the drug or alcohol at an excessive level is a social symptom of an addictThis can lead to hiding private stashes for later use. This is a dependency on a substance that is being abused

Legal Issues

Incarceration and legal issues are signs of the social effect of an addict. When analyzing whether or not legal issues caused by substance abuse is a psychological dependency versus a physical dependency, evidence suggests it is a symptom of psychological dependency. They need to do something illegal to get the substance of choice is a psychological dependence of that substance.   

Financial Issues

When drugs and alcohol take over and you need more and more of the substance, this will cause financial difficulties. This can happen when drugs are more important than other things in your life. You need to buy more and more drugs, leaving you with less and less money for life’s essentials. 

Infographic about the different types of drug dependence

Combating Symptoms of Withdrawals

Whether you are facing physical dependence or psychological dependence, self-soothing is a great way to help combat withdrawals. A great way to self-soothe is by exercising. Exercising is a great way to get your mind off narcotics and it helps release endorphins throughout your body. Talking to a professional or even a friend is another way to help combat withdrawals.  

Talking and expressing oneself is a great way to help ease pain both physically and psychologically. Taking either a cold or warm bath is another way to ease the pain of withdrawal symptoms by soothing the discomforts of sweating or chills. 

Sleeping is another way to ease the pain of detoxing from drugs or alcohol. Sleep deprivation is another symptom of substance abuse. Getting the rest your body needs can help heal and recuperate your body. 

Contact Us

If you or a loved one are going through any of these conditions, do not go through it alone. We have several locations in areas such as Dittmer, O’fallon and Maryland Heights, MO. Feel free to contact us at Sana Lake Recovery Center for all your recovery needs. 

Johnson, B. (2003). Psychological Addiction, Physical Addiction, Addictive Character, and Addictive Personality Disorder. 

O’Brien C. Addiction and dependence in DSM-V. Addiction. 2011 May;106(5):866-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03144.x. Epub 2010 Oct 6. PMID: 21477226; PMCID: PMC3812919. 

Picture of Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry, LCSW, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery. She oversees clinical operations, ensuring effective treatment strategies and compliance. Before this, she was Program Director at Gateway Foundation, managing care programs and collaborating with state departments. Ashley has also served as Director of Clinical Services at Treatment Management Company, improving staff retention and clinical standards. She holds a Master's in Social Work from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor's in Social Work from Saint Leo University. She is licensed in Florida, Arizona and Missouri.
See All: All Articles
Share This:
More Articles You'll Love

Check Your Insurance

No commitment. No one will know that you inquired.