Psychological addiction to drugs

The media's portrayal of a person giving up drugs usually focuses on the immediate effects of withdrawing from heroin. It's important to remember that there's often more to an addiction than the physical withdrawal symptoms.

In fact, for some drugs such as cannabis, there's a debate about whether there are actually any physical symptoms of withdrawal. People who use cannabis regularly over a long period may find there are certain situations in which they come to rely on the drug. If they stop using it they may feel very disabled.

This is a situation that can develop for almost any substance that affects the mind and this aspect of addiction can be harder to overcome than the physical symptoms.

Mental symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Disrupted sleep and rest
  • Difficulty controlling mood
  • Reduced wellbeing

The pattern of these symptoms will depend on the drug being used, the psychological make-up of the person using it and the circumstances under which they are attempting to remain drug free.

The term 'craving' is often used when talking about addiction. If a person is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and they know that by using the drug all these problem will go away, it's not surprising that they develop an overwhelming desire to use and that this dominates their thoughts.

Physical addiction to drugs

It's ironic that through films such as Trainspotting quite a lot of people feel that they understand the physical effects of withdrawal from heroin. They rightly see it as an unpleasant and difficult experience - and a good reason not to experiment with it.

The irony is that alcohol has much worse and more dangerous withdrawal effects. It's possible, but very rare, for someone experiencing heroin withdrawal to need to be admitted to hospital, while someone who is physically addicted to alcohol should not attempt to stop using it without consulting a doctor.

Again, as with psychological dependence, the length and severity of withdrawal differs according to the drug, how much has been taken and for how long.

For most addicts, their problem is a mixture of both physical and psychological aspects. There are some instances when it's difficult to distinguish between the two.

The stimulants cocaine and amphetamine are classic examples of this - people coming down after using these drugs feel very low and lack energy. When they take cocaine, they feel very high and use up lots of energy. Their feelings afterwards could be partly because of feeling tired and adjusting to a normal mood again, but there are other theories that suggest these feelings are because the body is re-establishing its chemical balance.

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The Have I Got A Problem website is a free online resource to help people better understand any issues or concerns they may have about mental health or addiction. The website includes resources specifically focused to; general Mental Health, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Insecurities, Self-harm Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anger Management, Eating Disorders, Coping, general Addiction, Alcohol, Smoking, Gambling, Drugs, Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana (Cannabis) Ecstasy, PCP, Mephedrone, Ketamine & Crystal Meth.

The site was created to give the public information to help them understand mental health and addiction issues and to assist people in making better informed decisions about their life and personal choices. was created and is run by 'Advising Communities’, which is a UK registered charity (Charity No. 1061055)


"People define drug misuse in different ways. It's the point at which the use of legal or illegal drugs becomes a problem by negatively impacting on a person's life."

Andy McNicoll

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