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Understanding Psychological and Biological Addictions

Understanding Psychological and Biological Addictions

When people think about addiction, they typically think of the abuse of drugs with addictive chemicals. Indeed, drugs are often addictive, but addiction is more than that. Addiction has both biological and psychological aspects to them that people often overlook. Sometimes a person may be biologically (or chemically) addicted to a substance or behavior.

However, someone may also become psychologically dependent on a substance or behavior as well. Regardless of whether it is based on psychology or biological, addictions are inherently harmful to those that engage in them. To help those who struggle with addiction, we must understand why addictions form, what treatments are effective, and how to encourage those we love and ourselves to seek help when needed.

How a Psychological Addiction Forms

Addictions can form for many reasons. Most commonly, a person turns to substances and self-soothing behaviors to help them cope with trauma and stress. Sometimes a person may also use these substances and behaviors to self-medicate to self-treat an underlying mental health disorder. In these cases, biological or chemical addictions can form due to the repeated use of such. Though it becomes complicated when someone becomes psychologically dependent on them.

This is when someone has convinced themselves that they need this substance or engage in specific behaviors because, without it, they cannot manage their emotions or stress. A common example is when someone consumes alcohol so they can, for the moment, forget about what is troubling them. They become afraid to be sober because when they are sober, they cannot help but remember painful memories or feel upsetting emotions that they don’t know how to process. A person may convince themselves that this is the best way to deal with their troubles and will continue to engage in these harmful addictions despite the harm it does to themselves.

Several things can be to blame for the formation of psychological addiction. Mental health education is severely lacking, and many people simply do not learn how to process and healthily deal with their emotions. When people do not learn healthy coping skills, they turn to unhealthy ones to fill the gap. With the stigma of mental health in general, many people are reluctant to seek help for a mental health disorder. They then attempt to self-medicate to treat it, believing they can handle it on their own.

Addiction, in general, forms because of the desire of someone to escape pain and stress. This, in turn, is the psychological basis for all addictions. Addiction cannot be treated successfully without addressing this important component. Psychotherapy is often used to treat this part of addiction. Therapy helps someone not only learn healthy coping skills but helps them build confidence in themselves. Getting treatment for an underlying mental health disorder is also important at this time. By giving someone the ability to cope and deal with their pain, they learn that they don’t need to engage in harmful substances and behaviors to feel ‘normal’.

What It Means to Have a Biological Addiction

Biological addictions are when the body forms a dependency on a behavior or substance. This can be for several reasons. The easiest reason to see this is when it comes to the abuse of substances, also known as substance use disorder (SUD). All substances in nature include chemicals, and some chemicals are highly addictive. This causes our brains to crave them because it’s the fastest way to feel good. We deal with cravings every day, especially for things like sugar or fatty food. However, it becomes serious when the brain craves an addictive substance or the dopamine rush from addictive behavior that is harmful.

When we abuse substances, especially those known as drugs like alcohol and opiates, we end up changing the chemical composition of our brains. We become saturated in these substances, and the brain begins to think that they are needed to feel normal. When we stop using these substances, we go into withdrawal because the body wants these chemicals. These cause psychological and physical symptoms, such as tremors, sweating, pain, sleeplessness, and anxiety.

Behaviors function in the same way, and our brain comes to want and need the constant rush of dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for pleasure and is part of the ‘reward’ center of our brain. This chemical, in general, is positive and can be used to motivate us. When it’s used to drown out pain and stress, it becomes addictive and can cause someone to engage in reckless behaviors to stimulate the brain for more dopamine.

Ways to Seek Help for Yourself and Others

To heal and recover from addiction, a person must first get treatment. Treatment can involve many factors, but in general, it involves therapy, forming support groups and networks, and detoxing your body. Every person is different, which also means how someone handles or engages in their addiction is just as different. Treatments are individualized to give each person the tools and skills they need to overcome their addiction.

The first step is to ask for help. Calling local mental healthcare facilities is a great way to get started. Some facilities may not specifically treat addiction, but they can point you in the right direction to find somewhere that does.

It’s also vital to build a support network. A support network is a group of people who are going through a similar process as you. This allows people to truly relate to each other and find comfort in those that understand what they are going through. Support networks can be found in hospitals, mental healthcare facilities, community centers, and online.

The most important thing to remember is that you and those you love are deserving of help and compassion. It takes an immense amount of bravery, but anyone can achieve recovery. All it takes is one phone call and the desire to change for the better.

Addictions can come in many forms. It doesn’t just mean forming a chemical dependency; it can also involve behaviors as well. Sometimes psychological dependence develops, which is just as important to treat as a chemical addiction. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we help people not only recover from their addiction but understand the reasons why it has developed. Addiction stems from underlying problems that must be treated before a person can achieve recovery. With help and support, anyone can learn the skills they need to achieve it. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder or addiction, call (949) 647-4090 today for the first step in your recovery journey.

LMFT, Program Director at Acera Health | Edited & Medically Reviewed

Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.

Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.

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