July 31, 2013 / Business Insider / — When someone says a substance is addictive, they can mean two separate things.
Physically addictive, more accurately physically dependent, is when your body begins to depend on the presence of a particular substance for its physical well being. It’s begun compensating its normal processes to adjust for the new artificial normal.
The sudden absence of that substance won’t allow enough time for the body to compensate without the substance. The result will be withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, chest pains, head and body aches, seizures, uncontrolled body sweats, and shortness of breath.
Alcohol is a great example. If you don’t normally consume it, and then all of a sudden decide to drink like a college student on spring break, your body would be unable to compensate for the sudden influx of booze and you will get nauseated, most likely puke, could have seizures, become unconscious and potentially stop breathing.
The same thing happens when you decide to go on a two-year-long spring break bender and then suddenly stop. The body, once again, is unable to compensate for what it considers abnormal.
Substances that are considered to be addictive, yet do not cause the physical withdrawal symptoms when suddenly stopped, tend to be classified as being psychologically addictive, not physically dependent. Meaning the person might still crave the substance, like a stereotypical fat cop does doughnuts, but won’t have to deal with the physical withdrawals that go along with other substances.
Gambling, high risk behaviors like bungee jumping and skydiving, or anything considered psychologically addictive, and yet doesn’t cause physical dependence, tend to stimulate the reward centers of the brain and cause the person to crave whatever action will cause further stimulation. Just try and ring a bell around Pavlov’s dogs and see if they don’t go a little crazy for the reward to come.
Nicotine, like other substances such as heroin, and alcohol, has been shown to cause some level of physical dependence as well as causing the cravings associated with being psychologically addicted. To understand why, let’s talk about what affects nicotine has on the body.