The Aspects Of Addiction Psychology You Should Know

Updated June 1, 2023by MyTherapist Editorial Team

Addiction is a complex disorder, and not even fully understood by professionals. If you’re not addicted to something, it can be hard to understand how someone can be so reliant on a substance, gambling, or any other activity. Addiction is often stigmatized within our society, which has a proclivity to punish drug users for their behaviors instead of providing support and treatment.

In this post, we will talk about the psychology of addiction. How does addiction affect your mind? Is addiction a choice? How do people treat addiction? If you or someone you know is living with an addiction, you are not alone, and help is available.

Is Addiction A Disease Or A Choice?

Recovering From Addiction Is Not A Linear Journey

One of the biggest controversies surrounding addiction is whether it’s a disease that needs to be treated or a choice by the person who is addicted. Those who think it is a choice usually have little sympathy for those who are addicted, saying that the person chose to take that drink or use that drug. This stigma has led to many people not wanting to seek the help they need with their addictions.

The truth is that while the person did choose to take that drug and continue using it along the way, once the substance has changed the brain, the person is going to have significant difficulty controlling their urges. There are also many other factors that can determine addiction that are not under a person’s full agency. Genetic factors are a good example. One person can drink on occasion and not be addicted, while another can develop alcoholism.

It should also be noted that many of the people who think addiction is a choice associate drug addiction with illegal substances and have less sympathy because that person was warned all throughout their life not to take those drugs. However, addiction can come in the form of prescription medications. Say someone gets into a car crash and is injured. They are prescribed pain pills, and they take a few. Then, they become addicted and take them even as their injuries heal. In one study involving those who reported past-year nonmedical use of a prescription drug, nearly 14% met the criteria for addiction to that substance.

You can be addicted to other life necessities, like food. Even shopping, gaming, or sex may become addictive. It’s unfair to write off addiction as someone who is craving illegal drugs when so many addictions stem from legal and necessary needs in our modern day.

How Does Addiction Work?

People don’t become addicted to something for no reason at all. When you have an addiction, there are complex changes in the brain that happen and are associated with addiction. The brain loves to reward you when it feels satisfied. When you get your sexual urges, hunger, thirst, or any other urge met, the brain releases different chemicals in the brain (such as dopamine) that make you feel good.

When you take a drug commonly associated with addiction, it causes your brain to overload itself with those feel-good chemicals. You feel fantastic when you first take that substance. Everyone may tell you this substance is bad for you, but your mind is telling you that the feeling you have while taking this drug is awesome and it needs more.

Your brain can alter itself, so it may start to feel pleasure only when it receives that drug. Otherwise, you may feel like something is missing in your life, and you may experience symptoms of depression or withdrawal effects if you don’t take it.

The brain can change shortly after a person becomes addicted to a potent substance, but it takes a long time to go back to normal even after withdrawal. Certain sights, sounds, smells, people, or environments can trigger you and cause you to crave the substance again, and this is what often causes a relapse. Some addictions may be short-term, leading people to believe that addiction is a choice, but other addictions are chronic, lasting a long time. Some people may battle their addictions for an entire lifetime.

What Are The Types Of Addictions?

Addiction is not just one phenomenon. There are a couple of different types of addiction, with the two most prominent being physiological addiction and psychological addiction.

Physiological Addiction

In physical or physiological addiction, a person’s body is physically dependent on a substance due to changes in the brain. When many people think of addiction, substances like illicit drugs are the first things to come to mind. You can become addicted to alcohol or drugs, and their effects make you crave more. Soon, you may be spending too much money on them, experiencing adverse health effects, or severing relationships with your friends and family members. 

Examples of highly addictive substances include opioids (i.e., heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone), stimulants (i.e., cocaine and methamphetamine), benzodiazepines (i.e., Xanax and Valium), nicotine (found in cigarettes) and alcohol.

Psychological Addiction

People can also develop behavioral addictions when they become emotionally attached to a particular behavior or substance. This is when the pleasure you feel while doing a certain behavior leads to addiction. Someone who is addicted to checking their cell phone may find it harder to socialize. Someone who is addicted to food may gain weight and experience concerning health effects. Someone can even become addicted to exercise. While exercise has many positive benefits, there is definitely the potential for over-exertion.

How Addiction Is Treated

A few different methods treat addiction, and someone who may receive different types of treatments and respond to them in different manners. Some people might respond well through counseling, while another person may thrive in medical therapy.

Treatment for your addiction doesn’t just involve quitting the drug and then being done with the process once the drug is out of one’s system. It can take a long time for the person to recover from their addiction, and they need to be monitored, in case of relapse. It can take months to years for the brain to recover from the addiction. You need at least three months of treatment to get the best results. Sometimes, a relapse happens and a patient may revert to the addictive substance or behavior a few times. If this occurs, an addiction psychiatrist can help in finding the reason or clue why relapse takes place.


One of the most popular ways to treat addiction is through detox, which is when you rid yourself of all the drugs in your body. It’s the first step in most drug treatment options because of this. Detoxification isn’t as simple as not taking the drugs; the patient may experience severe withdrawal effects ranging from irritability to death. That’s why patients need to be monitored through the detox process. They may receive treatment for their symptoms to make the detox process much easier.


Drug rehabilitation helps the patient go back to a drug-free life once they have detoxed themselves. This may consist of therapy, socialization meetings, and other ways to condition the patient to avoid the substance which fosters an addiction. There are also rehabilitation centers for addictions not related to drug use, such as gambling rehab or sex rehab. 

Rehab can involve living in a treatment center for an extended period. Some rehab sessions can last a few weeks, while others may last for over a year. These can involve 12-step programs, group therapy, and art therapy. Long-term rehab is good for patients who have lost everything important to them and are aiming to rebuild their lives.


Outpatient treatment is when someone lives in their own home and seeks treatment through commuting. It’s cheaper than living in a treatment center, and it’s good for those who have support networks and jobs. Outpatient therapy treats various other mental health conditions, too, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and eating disorders.


Recovering From Addiction Is Not A Linear Journey

Another way addiction is treated is through counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help those who are struggling with thoughts that tell them that they need to have the substance. CBT helps to eliminate these thoughts and replace them with more positive and self-assuring ones. You can often find an addiction counselor who specializes in CBT in rehab facilities. For example, if you have thoughts telling you that you won’t be able to live without the drug, you may give in to your urges. CBT replaces that thought with one that is designed to cheer you on.

Drug counseling may also involve getting one’s life back in order. If the person has violated trust within their previous relationships, a counselor can help them to make amends with the people they hurt or attempt to reconnect with them. If they lost a job, a counselor can help them find a new one and work on related goals like punctuality and interpersonal communication.

Counseling may be done as an individual, but it may be done in groups as well. Groups allow people who are going through a difficult shared experience to gather and find solutions to their challenges.

Online Support For Overcoming Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling to beat an addiction, it is understandable if there are reservations regarding seeking help. The stigma of addiction is real, and one of the barriers that people may face to achieving support. Additionally, maintaining an addiction can be expensive, and some people may have difficulty affording mental health services in their area.

There are many options available. You can try counseling, check into a rehab center, or go to group therapy. Online counseling, offered through platforms like MyTherapist, enables users to schedule appointments at convenient times and from any location with a secure internet connection. If you have a quick question, you can text your counselor directly. They can help you acknowledge triggers, increase the gap between a trigger and a response, and find ways to replace addictions with empowering habits. Online therapy is also considered more affordable than in-person counseling.

You may be encouraged to learn that online therapy poses strong potential for helping people overcome their addictions to drugs or other substances. In a recent study, practitioners utilized a web-based program called CBT4CBT which produced stronger addiction recovery outcomes than either in-person group therapy or face-to-face individual therapy. Participants were more likely to complete treatment using this modality, which focused on using strategies to solve real-life problems.


Whatever your choice in pursuing addiction treatment, know that you are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking help. While society has a stigma against people with an addiction, many have some form of addiction they do not even realize. The brain can change quickly in some drastic ways, and yet, undoing the change takes time. 

No matter how challenging treatment may seem, the result can be significantly more rewarding. You can begin your life anew and feel better throughout the day. If you’re interested in building a support network to help you succeed, you can reach out to a compassionate, professional online counselor today at MyTherapist.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.