When dissecting the nuances of drug or alcohol abuse, physical and psychological dependence are the two different forms that constantly come up. While often associated with one another, these two terms differ wildly, and understanding the meaning behind the two is an important step in finding the right treatment. With help from Steps to Recovery — a drug and alcohol treatment facility in PA — you’ll know the differences between physical and psychological dependence and how to best treat each condition.

Physical Dependency

Physical dependence is defined by bodily effects that one receives from abusing a substance once intake is reduced or removed completely. Physical dependence is much easier to identify, as the body exhibits many symptoms. Over time, the body demands more and more of the substance until it eventually shuts down.

Psychological Dependency

Psychological dependence on drugs is the mental and emotional responses someone exhibits when dependent on drugs or alcohol. Behavior is the most important factor to consider, as in many cases, the person’s entire personality revolves around the consumption and acquisition of the drug. Psychologically dependent individuals will use the drug to combat daily life struggles and often argue in defense of their drug addiction.

Symptoms of Physical Dependence

Both physical and physiological dependence involve each other. While one may have different responses and reactions depending on which condition they’re diagnosed with, there is no separating these two conditions.

With that said, the sheer nature of the two means that there are differences during the period of taking the drug and in the withdrawal symptoms that someone might experience. As we discussed, physical dependence often results in bodily reactions such as vomiting, anger, aggressive responses, and even seizures in more severe cases.


When experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a physically addictive substance, depression is one of the more common side effects. While it can be prevalent in psychologically addictive users, it is a more common physical response to the lack of availability of a drug.

Vomiting and Nausea

Individuals dependent on a drug often fail to get the appropriate nutritional value each day and will mostly spend time consuming the drug. As such, the withdrawal will lead to stomach pains due to poor gut health, nausea, and vomiting.


Physically addicted patients often get extremely aggressive and violent if their substance is not accessible, especially when they aren’t in an addiction treatment program. Outbursts are often directed at sources that they may feel aren’t allowing them to receive the drug or a helpless feeling that they won’t be able to recover from their addiction.


In serious cases, seizures can plague people who are physically dependent on a substance and aren’t getting it. You should immediately contact emergency medical services if someone you know is experiencing a seizure. Occasionally, people who are profusely sweating or have watering eyes are symptoms that occur before the onset of a seizure.

Symptoms of Psychological Dependence

As discussed, psychological dependence symptoms are much more behavioral-based. While some physical symptoms are still prevalent, the bigger signs to pay attention to are how they react while taking the drug and withdrawing from it. If someone you know is experiencing withdrawal symptoms of a psychological dependence on a drug, get help from a professional treatment center like Steps to Recovery.

Taking Drugs Even Knowing They’re Harmful

As psychological problems pile up, someone with psychological dependence might be unable to stop taking the drug even if they know it’s causing them pain. Without professional help, their substance abuse problems can get much worse.

Coping With Problems With Drugs

A common pattern with a psychological addiction is someone coping with their life problems by using the drug. If someone you know is constantly exhibiting symptoms of being on a drug after discussing or experiencing difficulties in life, it might be due to an addiction. Try to get them help before the substance consumes more of their body.

Taking Bigger Life Risks

Being on drugs can cause one to engage in more harmful and risky behaviors that they may not have participated in before. It could be anything from jumping on a bed to driving a car 20 miles over the speed limit. These riskier behaviors can lead to extremely dangerous situations that put the life of you, your loved ones, and other innocent people in danger.

Increasing Dosages

If you notice someone taking larger amounts of a drug, it’s a major sign of a problem. As the brain begins building a tolerance to the drug, it demands more and more of it to continue enjoying the same feeling. This will lead to more intense withdrawal symptoms that can severely impact the individual’s life.

Recover From Physical and Psychological Dependence With Steps to Recovery

Finding yourself dependent on a substance can be difficult to come to terms with, but you’re not alone. While the signs and symptoms are there, physical and psychological dependence occurs slowly and can be hard to detect until it’s too late. With help from Steps to Recovery’s addiction therapy programs, our team members can help you fight your dependency and take back the life that’s yours. Contact Steps to Recovery today if you or a loved one are in need of help.