Physical Aspects

The physical aspects of any addiction include all those factors from the physical world that play a part in the addiction, including sensitivity to certain substances, intoxication, tolerance, and withdrawal. Many of these factors overlap the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects. This is an overview; each of these factors is discussed in more detail in a module under its own name.


The term allergy, in a broad sense, means your body will react to the presence of an excess of almost any substance with an alarm reaction first, to try to get your attention, and later with an attempt to adapt to the presence of the substance. If you continue to use or produce an excess of this drug or chemical, the adaptation mechanism will break down and fail to protect you. from the substance. This model can explain many physical effects of addiction.


All your actions affect your world, which includes yourself. When you seek drugs or sex, argue with others, abuse people close to you, binge, purge, gamble, or do almost anything to excess, these behaviors form a major part of the addiction.


Most addicts binge, but some relate to it more than others. Any period of intense use of a drug, or other substance is a binge. A concentrated period of any other addictive behavior, like gambling, eating, or sex, is also a binge. Even family members may relate to a particular time of intense enabling as a binge.


Imbalances in particular hormones and neurotransmitters are integral to our model of addiction. This neurochemistry is also a strong factor in the emotional and mental aspects of the disease.


If you use a broad definition of purging, it is a common companion to bingeing. It is not just bulimics who binge and then try to purge themselves of the effects of that binge. Overeaters diet, alcoholics and gamblers swear off or go on the wagon, debtors cut up credit cards, and even codependents may hurt themselves in some attempt to atone for their behavior.


The fantastic adaptation mechanisms of the human body insure that almost any excessive behavior or chemical or neurochemical imbalance will lead to adjustments that will decrease their effect. Since all addictive behavior or substance abuse produced pleasure or relieved suffering in some way, at least in the beginning, this tolerance keeps the emotional and mental aspects of the addiction busy producing excuses to use more, use more often, or switch drugs or addictions.


The flip side of tolerance is withdrawal. Whatever physical effects the substance or activity produced must have given pleasure or relieved suffering, or you would not have continued them long enough for a tolerance to develop. Withdrawal means losing the pleasure or a return of the suffering you sought to escape. When more addictive use or activity follows withdrawal, you establish a strong addictive cycle.

Physical Characteristics

It is mostly the physical aspects and their emotional and social consequences that distinguish one addiction from others. Different substances or activities cause some differences in the biochemical imbalances that result. Also the physical circumstances of how you obtain the substance or activity vary.

Drugs Because of the vast differences in drugs and how you get them, drug addiction (including alcohol) produces a wide variety of physical aspects. This is probably why there are so many Twelve Step groups that address drug problems. An alcoholic who drinks in bars may find it hard to relate to heroin addiction. Many cocaine addicts have trouble identifying with the users of sedative hypnotics. The emotional, mental, and physical aspects of addiction are much the same, but the physical aspects are different in many respects.

Eating The differences between styles of food or eating addiction are also mostly physical. Most eating addicts overeat and then undereat, but the degree of overeating and undereating, and the duration of that cycle, is very different for an anorexic and for someone who is morbidly obese. Especially in early recovery they might find little in common.

Gambling The environments of legal or illegal betting, horse and dog races, sports betting, card games, lotteries, dice, casino gambling, and other wagering mean that the compulsive gambler has a disease with physical aspects different from other addictions.

Sex A sex addict may have a lot in common with an eating addict, but the illicit sex, pornography, prostitution, masturbation, casual sex, and other manifestations are a lot different. They might be disgusted at the physical aspects of each other’s stories, but they could relate to the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects, especially if they are both in good recovery.


Whatever the addiction, the physical aspects are more critical in early recovery. Medical or other professional services may be needed for detoxification, withdrawal, and other physical aspects of the disease. Abstinence and/or Moderation may be difficult to achieve, or even to understand. After the physical aspects of the disease are brought into balance (addictive use or addictive behavior stops), the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the addiction become at least as important as the physical.

Physical aspects, see also: Addiction, Alcoholism, Allergies, Behavior, Bingeing, Biochemistry, Blackouts, Constipation, Craving, Edema, Exercise & activity, Fetal alcohol syndrome, Flashbacks, Metabolism, Neurotransmitters, Nutrition, Premenstrual syndrome, Purging, Tolerance, Weight, Withdrawal.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

Creative Commons License
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.