Question: What does ‘psychological dependence’ mean?

Psychological dependence is a vague term that is losing popularity with addiction professionals. It refers to circumstances or activity — not involving drugs — that have come to be so much a part of a person’s life that they are interfering with normal living, yet the person continues them anyway.

Compulsive masturbation would be a good example, and it used to be said that marijuana use caused only psychological addiction. We now know that is not the case, and that physical addiction is definitely an issue with frequent use of THC compounds.

The reason the term is falling out of use? As we learn more about addictions and dependencies of various kinds, we discover that they all seem to relate to changes in brain chemistry that involve the “pleasure circuit,” certain neurotransmitters and receptors that create pleasurable feelings and that can be stimulated by outside sources, whether drugs, alcohol or activities such as shopping or gambling.

Since many of these things have now been found to act on the same parts of the brain, chemically, physically or both, there is a growing consensus that we will eventually find that even dependencies and addictions that do not involve actual chemical stimulation of the brain will turn out to have more in common than we suspected. Thus, “psychological dependence” is becoming just another less than completely accurate term for some addictions.

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