Module 6: how drugs work: learner's workbook

8.3 Physical and psychological dependence

Page last updated: 2004

Dependence on a drug can be physical, psychological or both. Many daily drug users demonstrate signs of both. The physical and psychological aspects of drug dependence are closely related and can be difficult to separate (often workers in the AOD field talk only of dependence). However, there are some differences.

Question - What do you understand by the term 'physical dependence'?

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Case study - Gemma

Gemma uses about $100 worth of heroin per day, in two to four injections, four to twelve hours apart. When she goes for longer than twelve hours without the drug, she feels sick in the stomach, anxious, and has very strong cravings for the drug.

Physical dependence

Task

Question - Consider a young person physically dependent on alcohol, sedatives or cannabis. What sort of physical symptoms might they demonstrate if they go without that substance for a significant period of time?

Question - What do you understand by the term 'psychological dependence'?

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Case study - Thomas

Thomas sniffs petrol with his friends. He often goes without sniffing for a few days with no withdrawal symptoms. However, when he has not sniffed for a week or more, he can feel a strong urge to sniff, despite knowing the dangers of petrol sniffing. The urge to sniff can be very strong if he feels depressed or bored.

Psychological dependence

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Task - writing exercise

Describe another example of a young person psychologically dependent on amphetamines, ecstasy or alcohol.

Workplace learning activity

Question - From your experience, what sort of physical symptoms might a physically dependent person demonstrate if they go without that substance for a significant period of time?

Question - What sort of symptoms might a psychologically dependent person demonstrate if they go without that substance for a significant period of time?