September 10, 2015

Overcoming Psychological Dependency to Drugs or Alcohol

Being psychologically dependent on any substance is indicative of being addicted. This type of dependence means that the addict requires the substance at a mental level. The disease of addiction is classified as a brain disease due to the uncontrollable drug cravings and inability to control usage, regardless of harmful effects.

Treatment for psychological dependence to drugs or alcohol begins by ending usage and going through withdrawals – but that’s only the beginning. Once you’ve made it through withdrawal, treatment is the next step. The objective of treatment of psychologically-based addiction is to help address issues that prompted use of the drug, as well as learning how to live a sober life.

Effective Treatment for Psychological Dependency

The National Institute of Drug Abuse has scoured countless studies and research papers to determine what methods of treatment are effective for drug and alcohol addiction. After comparing and analyzing studies from the mid-1970s to now, they’ve outlined the principles of effective treatment:

  • No single treatment will be perfect or appropriate for everyone. Treatment programs must be tailored to the individual.
  • Treatment must attend to all of the needs of the patient, not simply drug or alcohol abuse.
  • The patient must be in treatment for an adequate amount of time. The exact length of time considered adequate will vary and be dictated by the treating physician.
  • Counseling and similar behavioral therapies are the most effective form of treating drug addiction in the long run.
  • The treatment plan must be continually reassessed in order to ensure that it is effective. This is because someone going through recovery will be moving through different phases and treatment needs to move with them.
  • Mental disorders often accompany drug abuse and addiction. Therapy should also treat possible mental disorders.

The above criteria details a treatment program that transcends simple withdrawal and ending usage. A psychological dependency runs deep, but treatment needs to run deeper.

Learning How to Live Without Drugs or Alcohol

One of the primary objectives of any treatment program is to create lasting sobriety. Becoming sober through rehab and coping with withdrawal is simply the first step of a lifelong journey. After you’ve achieved sobriety, your brain will need time to rebuild the neural connections that were harmed during the addiction. Cravings can be intense during this time and how you deal with them will dictate the success of your ongoing sobriety. Most physicians and rehab experts suggest:

  • Ending contact with drug or alcohol users. For many, drugs and alcohol are a social activity. This means having friends who also use. One of the toughest parts of remaining sober is having to cut ties with former friends who still use drugs. You simply don’t need their influence and even being around them will make cravings harder to handle.
  • Avoid bars and drug hangouts. Any environment in which you once used should be avoided. Our brains make strong correlations between the environment we’re in and our memories of that same environment. Visiting your regular bar or friend’s house where drugs were used will make cravings much more intense.
  • Form new healthy activities. Pursuing healthy hobbies and activities are one of the best ways to form a new lifestyle focused on sobriety. You’ll meet new people who aren’t associated with your past usage, plus you’ll be distracting yourself from cravings. Additionally, activities that involve exercise will help minimize cravings by producing healthy endorphins.

Treatment for psychological dependency to drugs or alcohol aims to root out underlying causes of usage, and to help newly sober users create a new lifestyle that supports lasting sobriety.


  1. Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction, NIDA, September 2009,
  2. Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Overcoming Drug Addiction:
    Substance Abuse Treatment, Recovery, and Help, Help Guide, July 2015,

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