Can You Be Mentally Addicted to a Substance Without Physical Dependence?

Can You Be Mentally Addicted to a Substance Without Physical Dependence?

Physical dependence and addiction have many similarities, but they are not the same problem. Each causes biological changes, but they affect different areas of the body. Furthermore, addiction and dependence commonly occur in tandem, but they can also occur separately: some substances do not produce addiction, while others do not produce dependence. For example, caffeine can produce a physical dependence, but not an addiction; on the other hand, LSD can lead to addiction, but not dependence. The onset of addiction also varies according to a user’s genetic heritage, and anyone can become addicted to a substance or behavior before the body has time to become dependent to it. Substance abusers can definitely become mentally addicted without physical dependence, so understand the difference between these conditions to recognize the warning signs and risks.

Physical Dependence Vs. Addiction

Physical dependence is a process wherein the body adapts to long-term substance abuse by reducing its production of natural chemicals, desensitizing receptors and causing other neurobiological changes. The result of these responses is a physical dependence upon a substance to perform functions that the body previously handled itself. To be specific, to feel pleasure the body produces chemicals called endorphins, but it will stop doing so if someone abuses opiates for a long while—these drugs bind to the same receptor sites as endorphins, so the body no longer needs to produce the neurotransmitter if someone frequently abuses drugs. As a result, when opiate addicts go long enough without a dose, then physical withdrawal symptoms stem from the halted production of natural chemicals.

Addiction, on the other hand, changes the dopaminergic pathways and other elements of the brain reward system. The symptoms of this condition are more psychological, and they may include the following issues:

  • Compulsion to acquire and use drugs
  • Intense memory cues and cravings triggers
  • Diminished thought processes and decision making
  • Denial that a substance problem exists
  • Mood swings, insomnia, anxiety and mental stress
  • Initiated or accelerated mental health issues

A mental addiction might take root before physical dependence does, and certain drugs have limited or no dependence risk, like LSD, mushrooms, inhalants, ecstasy and ketamine. Some people suggest marijuana does not produce dependence, but a Harvard Medical School study in 2000 finds that heavy users who quit abruptly experienced short-term withdrawal symptoms, like depression, anxiety and irritability. In other words, it is not physical, but psychological factors that drive process addictions, like pathological gambling and Internet addictions.

Mental Addiction Treatment

When it comes to treatment, people with physical dependence usually begin recovery under medically supervised detox. Rehab centers oversee the detox process to minimize withdrawal symptoms; for substances like benzodiazepines and steroids, the staff typically tapers dosage to enhance safety. If someone only has a mental addiction, then the rehab center typically starts therapy immediately to break the psychological hold. While recovery plans differ according to each patient’s needs, therapists utilize the following treatment methods:

  • Diagnoses and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, like depression
  • Relapse-prevention tools to address cues that trigger substance cravings
  • Life-skills strategies to manage anger, stress, conflict and mood swings
  • Behavioral therapies that target unhealthy thought patterns and negative perceptions
  • Motivational therapies to stimulate motivation for recovery
  • Individual counseling to address underlying issues, like unresolved trauma

If you or a loved one shows signs of dependence or addiction, then get help immediately. Our admissions coordinators can take your call 24 hours a day to answer questions, discuss options and even check health insurance for treatment coverage. Our helpline is toll free, so please call now.