Though a substance use disorder (SUD) might seem like an easily identifiable problem, they are often made up of multiple layers of pain and struggle.
An individual suffering from an addiction has developed either chemical dependency to a drug, a psychological dependence, or both. Treatment for either requires multiple steps, and can be complex, but there is hope.
Types of Dependence
A SUD usually leads to drug dependence–which often grows into addiction.
Though the one often informs or encourages the other, dependence upon a substance does not necessarily mean that an individual has an addiction. Drug dependence is one sign or step in the progression from sobriety to addiction.
Dependence can form in multiple ways. Though chemical dependency may involve the highest risk, psychological dependence can be habit-forming and debilitating as well.
Psychological dependence can be easily identified by constant thoughts about obtaining or using a drug. Rather than manifesting in physical reactions to the drug, a psychological dependence controls how an individual thinks–and sometimes speaks–about a substance.
Conversely, chemical dependence is evident when an individual has physical symptoms if they take less of the drug, or stop it altogether.
Tolerance or withdrawal are obvious signs that an individual has a chemical dependence to a drug. While they may not “feel” dependent upon it, increasing the amount taken or experiencing side-effects from missing doses indicates that the body/brain has formed a chemical dependency.
Many assume that psychological dependence is (comparatively) less harmful than a chemical dependence. The truth is that this type of substance reliance can have far longer lasting effects on the person after the body has detoxed from chemical dependency.
It is incredibly rare for a person to develop psychological dependence without the presence of a chemical one. However, drugs like cannabis, LSD, and antidepressants are some of the most common substances for individuals to develop a stand-alone psychological dependence.
Since these substances contain little to no chemically addictive substances, individuals who use them often develop a mental fixation with the drug, where they become dependent on the feelings it gives and use it as a coping mechanism. This is different than when the body and brain develop a chemical dependency at the molecular level.
The symptoms of withdrawal for psychological dependence often manifest as psychosis. Anxiety, agitation, or depression are among the most common symptoms for psychological dependence. Unfortunately, psychological dependence can encourage uncharacteristic behavior and even mental disorders.
Chemical dependence can often be observed through physical effects. As a whole, this type of dependence is much better understood than psychological dependence.
While the brain is incredibly complex, the process associated with the development of chemical dependence remains roughly the same from patient to patient. Substances that cause chemical dependencies impact individuals very similarly, as opposed to the widely varied expressions of psychological dependencies.
Though better understood, chemical dependency to a drug is still incredibly difficult to overcome.
Substances that cause chemical dependency often structurally alter the physical processes that occur in the brain. After enough time, the brain becomes accustomed to functioning with the substance. This is why a sudden deficiency of the drug in the body can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Substances like nicotine, alcohol, and even caffeine can cause chemical dependence.
Oftentimes, individuals who develop a dependence will also experience a buildup of tolerance for a substance. As tolerance increases, individuals need more and more of a substance to experience the same effects that, before, only a small dose produced.
The symptoms for chemical dependency vary significantly, but often include shakiness, tiredness, fast heartbeat, or sweating. Which specific symptoms of withdrawal a person experiences depends on the substance used, how much, and for how long.
Though some substances do not form chemical dependency, and others do not cause psychological dependence, many substances are capable of causing both types of dependence.
Commonly abused illicit drugs, like heroin or methamphetamine, often result in both chemical and psychological dependence.
The presence of a dependence does not necessarily mean there is an addiction, but addictions often involve a combination of chemical and psychological dependence. As a debilitating disorder, an addiction can interfere with physical processes, as well as regular mental function.
Help for Psychological and Chemical Dependency
An individual experiencing a dependence upon a substance does not guarantee that they have a SUD, but it may be a warning sign for one.
Addictions often form from one or both types of dependence, so it is important for individuals who exhibit symptoms of both to examine whether they may be in danger of forming an addiction.
An individual who is suffering from an addiction may not even realize that they have a problem. If you think a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, or experiencing a chemical dependency to a substance, contact us. Reach out to see how we can help prevent the progression from dependence to addiction today.