The concept of physical or psychological dependence is complex, and should only be diagnosed by a medical professional. In some cases, it can be dangerous for your loved one to quit without medical assistance. 

What is Physical Dependence?

When someone uses a substance regularly, both their brain and the rest of their body becomes accustomed to receiving it. When they stop using unexpectedly, withdrawal, the physical or psychological reaction caused by the dependence on the drug, begins.

Withdrawal symptoms can be short-lived or last for months and range from mild to severe or potentially life-threatening. Depending on the substance, symptoms include:

  • Anxiety 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Sweating

  • Tremors 

  • Seizures

  • Hallucinations

What Is Psychological Dependence?

A person can qualify as having a substance use disorder without being physically dependent on the substance and experiencing the traditional withdrawal symptoms. It's an effect called psychological dependence. 

Someone with a pattern of sporadic binging may never have any signs of physical withdrawal but experience psychological symptoms, instead. If the individual is abusing cocaine or amphetamines, for instance, they can experience anxiety and cravings for the drug. Most people are at high risk of relapse in the early days of psychological withdrawal. 

When is it Dangerous to Stop? 

To understand if it’s dangerous for your loved one to stop using drugs, educate yourself about the type and quantity of the substance in their system and the associated withdrawal symptoms. While addictions to opioids, amphetamines, and tobacco will cause physical and mental discomfort, an addiction to alcohol could be life-threatening if they stop drinking suddenly.

However, do not take the responsibility of diagnosing your loved one. Talk to your doctor or an addiction psychiatrist to find out if medically supervised detox is necessary.

The greater your awareness about your loved one’s experience, the more you'll understand their dependence.