Addiction can be defined as the continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse consequences. Some addicts are good at hiding the extent of their dependence, but there is usually at least some evidence that something is not right. Friends and family are most often the ones who first become aware of the addiction, and they will become concerned. The most common reaction is for the addict to then become defensive when these concerns are mentioned. They are in denial about the problem. As the downward spiral continues the evidence of the addiction becomes increasingly obvious until even the addict is unable to deny it. The symptoms of addiction will be psychological and physical in nature.
The word psychological can be defined as relating to, or arising from the mind or emotions. A psychological addiction then refers to how the individual can become mentally dependent on certain substances (usually mind altering) or behaviors. Even when the individual realizes the harm that alcohol and drugs are causing them they may continue to use because of these psychological symptoms – willpower alone is often not enough to overcome a psychological addiction.
The symptoms of psychological addiction can include:
* Intense cravings to use the substance.
* Feelings of high anxiety if they try to end the addiction.
* Loss of appetite.
* The person feels unable to cope without this substance.
* Denial about their problems
* Feelings of restlessness when not using the substance
* A mental obsession with obtaining and using alcohol or drugs.
* Symptoms of depression when the individual tries to stop using the substance.
* Anxiety at the thought of not having access to the substance.
* Insomnia if the person doesn’t use the drug or perform the behavior.
* The individual can continue to romance the drink or drug many years after they have stopped using it. The cravings occur less frequently once the individual has established themselves in recovery, but they can still reappear at the most unexpected moments.
* Mood swings
* Physical damage to the brain leads to psychological symptoms such as loss of memory, personality changes, or confusion. An example of this would be alcoholic dementia.
A craving can be defined as an intense desire for some particular things. It is the hallmark of psychological dependence. If the individual attempts to eliminate their addiction, or cut down on their usage, they will experience cravings. This desire to use again can be so intense that it completely takes over the person’s thinking. Even after the person has been many years away from alcohol or drugs they may still occasionally have to face such cravings. This desire to drink or use again doesn’t tend to last long, but it can be an upsetting experience – it could also lead the person to act on it so that they relapse back to addiction.
To say that an individual is physically addicted on a substance means that they have an increased tolerance for it, and they will experience physical symptoms should they try to stop or reduce their intake substantially. These physical symptoms are more commonly referred to as withdrawals and they can include:
* Nausea and vomiting
* Body aches
* Changes to pulse rate
* Changes to blood pressure
* Noticeable shaking or body tremors
* High temperatures
* Changes to respiratory rate
* Restless leg syndrome
It would be misleading to say that physical addiction and psychological addiction are completely separate. This is because the brain and the body are not different things – the brain is part of the body. It is possible for the person to have addiction symptoms that are predominately psychological in nature. A good example of this would be gambling or internet addiction. This means that they feel the need to engage in the behavior in order to cope or because they have a deep urge to do so. When it comes to alcohol and drugs the individual will usually develop both a physical and psychological addiction. The way this usually happens is that the person develops a psychological dependence first of all, and this drives them to keep using the drugs until they become physically addiction as well.
There can be a great deal of confusion between the words dependence and addiction. This is hardly surprising as they both tend to be used to refer to the same thing. In fact many physicians prefer to use the word dependence because addiction is such a loaded word that carries all types of prejudices with it.
One reason why some people still like to differentiate between addiction and dependence is that they can use these words to describe two different behaviors. For instance, those people who rely on strong opiate pain medication will develop tolerance over time and may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop. It would not be fair to say that this person is an addict though because they are taking this substance in a controlled way for medical benefit. When people talk about addiction they usually mean those individuals who are taking substances because they want to feel good. The patient who is taking these substances to help manage their pain usually does not suffer from psychological withdrawals should they stop.