“Why have I become addicted to/ dependent on drugs (or alcohol)?” Considering physical dependence.

In the last post, I discussed the psychological aspect of drug and alcohol addiction. In this post I discuss the physical component of drug and alcohol addiction.

With continued use, the body becomes physically dependent upon particular drugs/ alcohol in order to function at what feels like a ‘normal’ level. This occurs because the body becomes used to the drug/alcohol being provided. This leads the body to expect the drug (or alcohol) will continue to be provided. The body then modifies its internal physical processes to account for it. When the body does not receive the drug (or alcohol), it is required to readjust its internal processes, to function without it. It is during this readjustment that someone with an addiction experiences a physical withdrawal. The only thing that can prevent the body going through a physical withdrawal is further use of the particular drug.

The timing of onset of physical withdrawal symptoms varies between drugs. The intensity of the physical withdrawal symptoms one will experience depends on the extent to which the body has become dependent on the drug (or alcohol); in short, the intensity of the withdrawal depends on the type of drug used and the amount/ frequency it was being used. You can expect the physical symptoms experienced during a withdrawal to be the opposite to what is experienced whilst using the drug.

N.B. physical withdrawals from some drugs (including alcohol and benzodiazepines) should only occur under medical supervision, as serious medical complications can arise during the process (e.g. seizures).