What Is Psychological Dependence?

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  • Written By: Crystal Cook
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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Psychological dependence is a mental addiction to a substance. While drug use can cause a physical addiction in which the body reacts negatively if the drug is withheld, psychological dependence convinces a person's mind that there is a need for the drug. While there is a difference between addiction and dependence, the treatments are similar, often requiring the help of family, friends and therapists.

Psychological dependence is similar to addiction but the two disorders are not considered to be the same. Addiction is physiological and causes a person crave the addictive substance. A psychological dependence leaves a person feels that he or she needs the substance to feel good. Psychological dependence is not considered to be an actual medical diagnosis.

Substance abuse can be a psychological dependence rather than an addiction. Drugs such as barbiturates, opiates, alcohol and nicotine can all lead to dependence. The dependence normally occurs when a person tries something new, such as drinking, and enjoys the feeling he or she receives from it. Those who have this kind of dependence do not experience physical withdrawal the way a true addict does, but they do sometimes experience psychological disturbances such as anxiety and depression.


Certain activities also can cause psychological dependence. Activities such as gambling, pornography and shopping can be mood altering, meaning they change the chemistry in the brain much the way that some kinds of drugs do. Some forms of exercise, such as running, also can produce this effect. In order to feel good, those who are dependent will continue with the behavior, even if it has negative effects on them or those around them. These people think the only time they can feel good about themselves or their life is when they are engaged in the addicting activities and, without these activities, they can feel like they are unable to live normally.

Treatment for psychological dependence does not vary much from treatment for addiction and requires the help of a trained professional. The main difference is that the patient does not have to go through detox, because he or she is not physically addicted to a substance. Group therapy is a common treatment in which the dependent person meets with others going through the same thing and learns methods of coping with life to help overcome the dependency. Family is included in treatment to help the patient and be supportive as the patient learns ways to be independent. The dependent person has to learn to control himself, overcome his urges and reach out for help when it is needed.


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