What is a psychological addiction and how is it treated?

Psychological addiction(s) have been somewhat overlooked in the recent DSM-V update. What are they? And do they deserve more attention from the clinical world? We explore here.

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The theory of psychological addiction

Psychological addiction is theorized to develop through consistent and frequent exposure to a specific stimulus. Behaviors which can produce observable psychological withdrawal symptoms (i.e. cause psychological dependence) have included:

  • eating food with high sugar or fat content
  • physical exercise
  • sex
  • shopping

However, psychological addiction(s) have been somewhat overlooked in recent years, only somewhat noted in the recent DSM-V update. So, what are these types of behaviors, really? And do they deserve more attention from the clinical world?

A Q&A with specialists that treat psychological addictions

Today, we speak with C.A.R.E. Florida about these very issues. C.A.R.E. employs a philosophy to treat the whole person and has specializes in treating process addictions. Mitchell Wallick Ph.D., CAP, CMHP, ICADC, CAGC, FABFCE and the Executive Director at C.A.R.E. joins us to explore the other side of behavioral compulsion. In this interview, he’ll share his experience in the field of psychological addiction and how is it treated. At the end, if you have any additional questions or want to leave a comment, please send us a message via the comments section at the bottom of the page. We’ll try our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

ADDICTION BLOG: What is the current, accepted medical definition of a psychological addiction? Do you think that this definition is OK as it is, or requires some broadening? How and why?

C.A.R.E.: I believe that the definition is adequate as it appears with the following exception. A category for psychological addiction should be added.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are the most common types of psychological addiction?

C.A.R.E.: I would say probably gambling followed by sex addiction.

ADDICTION BLOG: What symptoms or indications do they have that are clinically in common?

C.A.R.E.: Psychological withdrawal symptoms which include restlessness, sleeplessness, etc. Also ,the almost impossible urge to stop using when the patient knows that it is damaging to do so.

ADDICTION BLOG: How is a psychological addiction diagnosed?

C.A.R.E.: Based on symptomology and diagnostic testing such as lie bet and similar questionnaires for each area.

ADDICTION BLOG: How many treatment centers in the U.S. currently specialize in the treatment of psychological addictions?

C.A.R.E.: Not enough. However, we don’t know the real numbers. Many who claim to treat this type of disorder simply tell the patient to substitute alcohol for whatever their addiction is.

ADDICTION BLOG: How is success measured in the treatment of psychological addictions?

C.A.R.E.: Restoration to a quality life. Abstinence of the negative addictive behavior.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are the most important modalities in psychological addiction treatment?

C.A.R.E.: Depends on the patient. Underlying causes are definitely under the microscope. Figuring out what purpose the addiction serves is best served through cognitive therapy. If result of trauma EMDR can be useful. Behavioral modification also can be useful in some cases.

ADDICTION BLOG: How often are individuals cross addicted?

C.A.R.E.: Frequently.

Often, when one addiction is in remission and the underlying causes are not addressed, another will take its place.

ADDICTION BLOG: How often do individuals seek treatment for substance use disorders but are not chemically dependent? Is this rare?

C.A.R.E.: If dependency is described as physical withdrawal, the answer is frequently. If it is treatment with the abstinence of all chemicals, it is rare.

ADDICTION BLOG: When it comes to these types of addictions, how important are the personal needs of individuals in modifying therapy?

C.A.R.E.: Extremely.

One must meet the needs of the individual. People will only respond to that which they feel is in their best interest. That means meeting the patient where they are as opposed to where we would like them to be.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

C.A.R.E.: Accept the fact that dependency is a disease. Understand that it is chronic. Further understand that addiction is the responsibility of the addicted person, no one else. Like going the bathroom, no one can do it for someone else. On the other hand, the addict must be expected to take not the responsibility for his/her illness, but the responsibility for managing it.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I got on drugs when I was 13 , aerosols , then played up kicked out of Skool by 13 by then I had moved on to blow /weed v, then at 15 I had a child he was with me till I was sent to prison Ihe was 10 we got on real well in that time I was there a year n when I was out he stayed there I gave him that choice , he’s life was terrible he’s amazing now beat the odds lol me I got of gear 33 is injecting anywhere till I rushed in Hospital there’s so many terrible things I could tell u but I’m tired , I’m sick of trying to b this normal which I want with my whole being but my brain makes me ( no voices lol) just the frustration of it I hv been clean now nearly 7 years clean!!!! with lately the odd blip and no matter I how think they want know I can’t do it any more my minds in bits and believe I will. Not tell my key worker I need something else maybe college might help , if I carry on tiring to get a life when I thought a one point I will die that way !!!i. I never iv got qualifcations but still fighting with my mind help !!!!

    1. Hi Bailey. You’ve have chosen a very hard path for quitting. But, now you have finally made it, and 7 years sobriety are the prove of this. Stick to the great choice you’ve made, and everything will fall into place.

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