Physical addiction and emotional addiction may, at first, appear as though they are separate occurrences. Although we often consider the mind and body as different entities, the brain is a part of the body, and emotions are influenced by neurotransmitters from the brain. While one might be more pronounced than the other at any given time, ultimately the physical and emotional elements of addiction are inextricably linked.
When people make a comparison or distinction between the physical and emotional elements of an addiction, they may be referring to the withdrawal symptoms that are a part of the cycle of physical dependence. With substances like opiates and alcohol, long-term users can suffer severe withdrawal symptoms that manifest in the body as well as influence mood.
If unsupervised, this taxing withdrawal experience can push people suffering from addiction back into using drugs just to relieve these physical symptoms.
Other drugs like marijuana have far less intense withdrawal effects and symptoms; they are just not as physically addictive as other substances. However, just because some drugs don’t cause the stereotypical flu-like “opiate-withdrawal” symptoms doesn’t mean that physical symptoms don’t occur; they can and do.
Anxiety, depression, fatigue, issues with eating/appetite and sleep disturbances are just some of the withdrawal symptoms that can manifest from any drug withdrawal.
While all drugs cause some type of physical effect in the body that contributes to addiction and withdrawal, there are almost always underlying emotional causes that led to the addiction in the first place. While many people who use drugs begin taking them as a purely recreational pursuit, others do so in an attempt to self-medicate from uncomfortable, painful emotions that they would rather not feel.
These emotions may be situated around a recent event in life (i.e. the death of a loved one, a personal crisis, financial issues, etc.) or they may be related to unresolved, unhealed traumas. In this way, the drug functions as a balm for painful emotions, allowing the user a brief respite from painful feelings.
The “high” that is experienced during drug use and abuse often has a strong emotional hold to match its physical counterpart. People can become as addicted to the positive emotions elicited by a drug as they do the physical sensations in the body. Ultimately, many people take drugs to feel good or to numb themselves.
The main feel-good neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Drugs that amplify the production of these feel-good neurotransmitters tend to be the most addictive. For this reason, addiction tends to be comprised of both physical and emotional elements, although one may be stronger than the other at any given time.
The most successful rehab programs effectively address both the physical and emotional aspects of the addiction. While a supervised detox is crucial in helping to manage the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal, ultimately, the underlying emotional causes fueling the addiction must be addressed for long-term success.