Drug Dependence: How to Differentiate between Physical and Psychological Dependence?

Substance use disorders, drug abuse, and addictions, are becoming a frequently recurring term said often enough with regards to youth and adult health conditions. Sadly, so many lives are destroyed each year through addictions to alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and other hard core drugs. Worse still, is the fact that often the underpinning issue in most cases, starts with declining mental or physical health. According to the Statistica 3,823 Canadians died in 2019 from opioid overdoses, this is a disheartening number. Covid-19 has played havoc with so many of those already fighting mental battles. For the multitudes who were already strained emotionally and mentally, the Corona Virus related confinements at home, stresses of social distancing, and the fear of the pandemic caused a negative tipping. Studies conducted during this period have shown a 135% increase, from 23 to 54 deaths from January 1, 2018, to September 20, 2020 period in the Ontario region alone.


Still mental health consultants at the Insight Clinic, and many others like us remain committed to helping people afflicted with mental health concerns, throughout their wellness journey. We encourage them towards quitting any acquired dependencies or habits, and will get loved ones and friends involved, where required, to keep them motivated. Oftentimes, those trying to recover from any kind of dependence have undergone severely emotional and traumatic times. Most due to their limited or vague knowledge on the type of dependence they’re experiencing have no idea where to find help and what options are available to them.


This blog discusses the difference between physical and psychological dependence on drugs and the treatment patterns for both.

How to Recognize Unhealthy Drug Use in Loved ones, Family and Friends

Drug use or abuse may begin subtly and can often go unnoticed. Addictions may begin with recreational drugs used experimentally in social situations, or due to mounting peer pressure. This leads to sporadic drug use becoming habitual. Another setting for drug dependence is medically prescribed opioids. An addiction may begin with exposure to prescribed medications, or upon being given these medications by a friend or relative who was prescribed the same. Here are some indications that someone you love may be using drugs.


  • Disinterest, apathy and drop in performance at work or school
  • Physical health changes, such as weight loss or gain, red, bloodshot eyes or lethargy, fatigue, and stupor
  • Disinterest in physical appearance, clothing, grooming, hygiene or looks
  • Exaggerated changes in behavior, aggression, secrecy, privacy, seclusion or cutting relationships with family and friends
  • Asking for loans or cash advances.
  • Also if loved ones begin to find cash or sellable items missing

Physical Dependence

When the body cannot function properly without taking the addictive drug, it is called physical dependency. Let’s take the example of a person using pain killers for severe back pain. His or her body begins to rely on that particular medicine to alleviate pain symptoms. For such a case, attempting to stop using the drug, causes withdrawal symptoms to kick in.


The person starts to suffer intense pain, and the easiest way to relieve it, is to retake the drug. Hence the sufferer gets caught in this cycle, and quitting becomes an out-of-reach goal.

Some general withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Goosebumps
  • Unstable Blood Pressure and Heart rate etc.

Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence, also known as addiction, is related to how the person feels in the absence of some drugs. Addiction is defined as a brain disorder: the person is involved in repeated drug craving behavior. Unlike physical dependence, psychological addiction is more of an emotional need than a physical need. When people think that some medication is necessary for their day-to-day functioning, that’s when he or she is addicted to it.

Taking the said drug may release feel-good chemicals, making them dependent on the drugs to stay functional, and in a good mood.


If a person associates a drug with performance, she/he might think they cannot play sports without the said drug. The actual truth may be quite different from the user’s perception of it. She/he may be capable of not just playing effectively but even winning, without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms: but they do not believe so. The bias lies in their emotional perception and that clouds their judgement.

Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of concentration etc.

Treatment for Psychological and Physical Dependence

There is a difference between treatments for both types of dependencies. Professional mental health consultants or counsellors at our well-respected psychotherapy clinic will first inquire about and determine patient symptoms. Any diagnoses made is based on the type of dependency, and then a cognizant decision is taken regarding the type of treatment required.


Physical dependence treatments are often less complicated than treating psychological dependence. A sufferer may choose to work with a professional to gradually lessen and ultimately discontinue use completely, with strict supervision to help manage and relieve withdrawal symptoms.


If a sufferer has both a physical and psychological dependence, treating physical dependence helps cure the psychological aspect. Medical detox is the first step towards treating physical dependence. Despite detoxification, certain symptoms may occur in cases of prolonged drug dependence.


While some psychotherapy clinic consultants may inadvertently associate physical dependency with psychological addiction, psychological dependence is treated through counseling, activities, support groups, and talk therapies.


Licensed therapists educate users about the harmful effects of the drugs they are using and support them in quitting their bad habits. The detoxification process can last for a week, whereas therapy sessions continue over an extended period of time, sometimes for months. The long-term treatment pattern remains the same for both dependencies. Medical personnel closely monitor the user’s behavior and provides therapy and support sessions to break the repetitive substance intake patterns.


To get a thorough understanding of whether you or a loved one is suffering from physical, or psychological dependency, or both, get in touch with the Insight Clinic. Our aim is help users find reliable help for psychotherapy in Ontario. Get a clear understanding of the reasons behind your drug use/abuse or that of a loved one.  Our team includes experienced professionals who have worked on countless cases of both types of dependencies. At all points, empathy is key. No one intentionally participates in harmful behavior without some source of trauma, physical, mental, emotional that underpins it. At the insight Clinic we want to get you safely beyond it.

Words of Hope

Whether you are experiencing physical dependence or psychological addiction, you can willingly overcome it through consistent effort. Your life can and should change for the better. This is possible and better with guided help for psychotherapy in Ontario. There are so many success cases we have on record, and we would like to help you become one too. Reach out to reputable psychotherapy centres and choose one that aligns with you. I wish you the best of luck in your journey towards life. The Insight Clinic is focused on providing clarity, awareness, and help for people who need it. If there are any questions or concerns you have, please do contact us. We would love to be able to help you stay aligned towards success. Because you were made for it. Never stop believing in your ability to get through it all.

The Insight Clinic
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