Mental Illness, We Are #Fearless
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#Fearless Family: Physical vs. Mental Addiction

By Trey Dyer
Writer for DrugRehab

Most people are familiar with the term addiction. It’s the nonmedical term for a substance use disorder, which is a chronic brain disease that induces compulsive activity despite health, social and legal consequences.

Addiction is more prevalent in American society than ever before. The country is facing the worst drug epidemic in its history. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7.7 million Americans ages 12 or older have a substance use disorder.

Though the majority of people know what the concept of addiction is, most do not realize the complexity of this disease.

Substance use disorders do not solely affect individuals on a mental level. Physical dependency often plays an important role in the development of a substance use disorder.

Physical and mental symptoms contribute to an individual’s substance use disorder, though there are some key differences between mental and physical addiction.

Mental Addiction: Behaviors and Substances

Mental addiction is characterized by the brain’s drive to use drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol induce the release of dopamine — the neurochemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward — in the brain. This dopamine release causes people to feel and think of the substances in a positive way.

Once the brain has become conditioned to know that drugs or alcohol produce a rewarding response, it can change how an individual perceives and responds to substances. This can eventually lead to the development of a substance use disorder.

An individual who is mentally addicted to drugs or alcohol experiences severe and intense cravings to compulsively use the substances to achieve the desired effects of the drug. The cravings and drive to use the drug often become users’ top priority in life.

The drive and craving to use drugs or alcohol begins to have negative social consequences for users. Despite the consequences associated with the behavior of someone with a substance use disorder, many users do not have the ability to control themselves.

They may stop showing up for work even though they know they will get fired. They may resort to stealing from friends or family to pay for their drug supply even though they know it’s wrong. They may become more worried about their personal ability to get high instead of being altruistic, which can cause their relationships to suffer.

Despite the negative consequences, the mental aspect of addiction causes a prolonged pattern of destructive behavior that they struggle to stop.

Some substances have less addictive potential than others, such as:

  • Psilocybin Mushrooms
  • Peyote
  • LSD
  • MDMA
  • Other Hallucinogens

These drugs do not have the physical addiction liability that substances such as alcohol or opioids have, but some people may use them despite negative consequences.

Physical Addiction: Dependency and Withdrawal

Physical addiction is characterized by the body’s physical need to use a substance as a result of repeated and prolonged use over time. The user’s body becomes accustomed to the drug’s effects and becomes physically reliant on the substance.

Those with substance use disorders develop a tolerance to the drug over time. The tolerance requires a user to need more of a substance to achieve the desired effects. As the body becomes more and more reliant on the substance, being under the drug’s influence becomes a normal state of being.

Many drugs are physically addicting. When those with a substance use disorder stopping using the drug, they experience physical withdrawal symptoms. These drugs include:

  • Heroin and Other Opioids
  • Barbiturates
  • Alcohol

While physical dependency plays a role in how substance use disorders develop, the combination of the physical and mental aspects of addiction make the disease difficult to treat. Though addiction treatment is difficult, there is hope in recovery.

Rehab Treats Both

Addiction rehab treatment programs offer those with substance use disorders the chance to treat the mental and physical side effects of the disease.

Treatment for substance abuse begins with detox, which focuses on treating the physical side of addiction. Detox refers to the level of treatment where an individual clears all toxins, drugs and alcohol from their body. This allows individuals to free themselves from physical dependency on a drug.

Those in treatment move on to either inpatient or outpatient care after detox. Inpatient and outpatient treatment focus on counseling, therapy and support. In these phases, individuals can treat the mental aspects of addiction and learn techniques to cope with drug cravings and behavior impulses.

Rehab treatment is often the safest and most efficient means to treat a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to an addiction treatment specialist.

About the Author: Trey Dyer is a writer for and advocate for substance use disorder treatment. Trey is passionate about informing people about the cycle of addiction and what can be done to stop the spread of this disease. When he is not writing, Trey can be found bike riding, fly fishing or hiking.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, December). Is There a Difference Between Physical Dependence and Addiction? Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, September 8). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Retrieved from

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Lastly, we run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.

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