Motivation and Education

What Do Psychologists Say About Addiction? How Does It Work?

Tony Soprano Psychologist

Have you ever wondered how addiction really works inside your brain? It feels so powerful in the moments that it really counts, and it might seem like you have a little devil over your shoulder telling you your next moves.

Addiction comes in many forms. Some people are addicted to smokeless tobacco chews, and others are addicted to alcohol. Some people are addicted to both. You can also be addicted to hard drugs, people, and prescription medications.

No matter your addiction, addiction is the same for many people. It is either chemical or psychological, and most of the time, it’s both. Read on to learn more about what psychologists say about addiction and the way it works physically and psychologically.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is the mental or physical dependency on something outside of yourself. People can be addicted to:

  • Relationship patterns
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking cigarettes or vaping
  • Marijuana
  • Smokeless tobacco
  • Hard drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin
  • Prescription painkillers like fentanyl, morphine, etc.
  • Prescription medications
  • Sex and porn
  • Self-harming behaviors

If you’re directly struggling with addiction and need help, the SAMSA addiction hotline is open 24/7 at (800)662-4357.

Addiction often develops due to a choice made by someone to partake in addictive behavior or use an addictive substance. It’s often done out of good faith, and it doesn’t always feel bad at first. In fact, most drugs/addictive substances are utilized because they make the person feel better, whether that’s calm, happy, euphoric, or simply numb.

Addiction becomes harmful when it starts to impact your life negatively and the lives of those around you and closest to you. For example, when you first start to chew tobacco, your body can likely handle it. However, over time, you may see signs of gum disease, and you can even develop cancer.

How Does Addiction Work Physically?

So, how does addiction work physically in the body? What chemicals cause it to become addicting?

Physical addictions teach your body over time that you require a substance to feel physically okay. Chemicals like nicotine are a good example of this. Over time, without nicotine, your body may start to feel sick, tired, lethargic, and shaky. This reaction means you’ve built up a dependency on the drug or substance.

With harder drugs like heroin, this feeling often causes people to take more and more of the drug to feel the same “high” they felt the first time. When they can’t get it anymore, it can cause overdoses, which end in many deaths.

What About Psychologically?

Psychological addiction is an addiction to the positive sensations you get from the thing you’re addicted to, whether it’s a person or a substance. For example, in the case of a relationship, you can feel like you can’t get enough of someone if they continue to provide you with happy moments but then quickly take them away and start abusing you, making you work harder for the good times.

It’s the same way with a physical drug. You become dependent on the happy feelings you get when you take it. When the happy feelings start to go away, you take more and more to try to recreate those feelings again. However, the sad reality is that you’re often hurting your brain physically.

With tobacco, a psychological addiction can be created by feeling calmed by the feeling of a cigarette in your mouth or the feeling of chewing a can of dip. That’s why non-physically addictive products like fake chew can be so beneficial. They trick the psychological parts of your brain into feeling comforted enough for you to work through the physical effects of withdrawal.

Are Some Addictions Easier to Cure Than Others?

All addictions are difficult to heal and overcome. Addiction can also be more difficult for some personality types than for others. In fact, even people who grew up in a family with parents or caregivers that were addicted to something will often have the same addictions later in life.

Addictions to very heavily physically influencing drugs like prescription painkillers are much harder to beat than an addiction that’s purely psychological. However, all addictions are hard, and no one person’s experience is worse than another’s.

If you’re experiencing addiction of any type, you can have severe consequences. Even a psychological addiction to an abusive person can lead to death if the person is physically abusing you or has threatened to. That’s why it’s essential to get help.

Do All Addictions Have Withdrawal?

All addictions have withdrawal, whether it’s physical or not. Psychological withdrawal is also a thing that happens in all types of addictions.

For some people, withdrawal can be deadly. That’s why it’s important to withdraw or “detox” under the watchful eye of a doctor or rehabilitation center. With drugs such as heroin, withdrawal can cause vomiting, shaking, body temperature changes, a drop or rise in blood pressure, and even seizures.

Tobacco withdrawal exists as well and can take many forms. It can be noticed through feeling shaky, feeling unwell, deep physical urges to use tobacco again, and depression. Symptoms of Quitting Dip and Chew

How Can I Get Help for My Addiction?

If you want to get help for your addiction, that’s amazing! We believe in you 100%.

The first step is understanding the severity level of your addiction. If you are in danger of severe physical consequences from withdrawing from a drug, you should look into rehabilitation centers or a hospital where you can detox from that substance.

If you are worried about the psychological effects of withdrawal, you may want to see if there’s a spot in the in-patient or resident mental health facilities in your area, especially if you think you may feel suicidal or have a desire to self-harm.

If you need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) today. They are available 24/7 to help.

If you are actively planning suicide or have hurt yourself, find a way to your nearest emergency room or call 911 immediately.


Addiction is a struggle in all areas. However, it’s not a life sentence. Millions of people break away from addiction every year, and you can too! Now you know a little more about what psychologists say about addiction. If you’d like to learn more about psychologist facts, check out BetterHelp’s excellent advice column and mental health resources today!

NOTE: This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

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