Emotional vs Physical Addiction

Addiction is defined as an uncontrollable, compulsive craving, even in the face of severe consequences. Addiction, or physical dependence, occurs when the body adapts to a substance such as tobacco, alcohol or drugs. As the body adapts, it becomes tolerant of the substance and more is required to attain the same effect. Withdrawal results if use of the substance is suddenly stopped.

Because the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal are dramatic and frightening, this physical dependence is what comes to mind first when we think about addiction.

However, the most fickle element of addiction is not physical, but emotional (or psychological). To a large degree, physical dependence is manageable through therapy, nutritional supplements and helpful medication, but the accompanying emotional dependence, which isn't obviously apparent and isn't directly measurable, is more difficult to identify and takes longer to treat.

Many people continue to believe that physical addiction is uncontrollable, while emotional dependence is far less serious. The mistaken belief is that emotional dependence is easy to resolve with determination and willpower.

Marijuana is at the center of the storm when it comes to the debate regarding emotional vs. physical addiction. Many experts claim that marijuana isn't physically addictive, and that the drug is safe compared to other "hard" drugs." However, most treatment professionals believe marijuana is an addictive substance, and the number of users seeking treatment continues to grow steadily.

Is marijuana physically addictive? The debate continues, but there is little disagreement that marijuana is at least psychologically addictive, and that heavy users often experience symptoms such as depression, moodiness, irritability and other difficulties upon trying to stop.

Similarly, many people claim that behaviors such as compulsive gambling or pornography consumption, which do not involve a dependency on substances, are not true addictions. Although they are not physical addictions, they are clear examples of psychological/emotional addictions. They are as destructive as physical addictions and people continue to engage in the activities uncontrollably and compulsively, even at the risk of family, career, health or finances. Experts assume, and there is some evidence, that brain pathway and neurobiological changes “imitate” drugs or alcohol and thus emotional addiction is to be taken as seriously as any other substance related addiction.

Treatment for psychological or emotional addictions usually involves individual therapy, not only tackling the current addiction but also it’s underlying causes. Treatment may also involve various complementary therapies such as yoga, biofeedback or acupuncture. Nutritional supplements and in rare cases, medication are prescribed to ease the withdrawal symptoms and to rebalance body and brain biochemistry.

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