We typically associate withdrawal symptoms with addiction to substances. Your body gets used to the presence of a certain chemical and gradually adapts to it. You need the substance to feel normal and when you quit, your system is out of balance. This causes various withdrawal symptoms which typically include headaches, irritability, nausea, insomnia, and depression. What may be surprising is that you don’t have to be addicted to a substance to feel withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from behaviours can also have physical symptoms.
Although much of the withdrawal from substances is caused by chemicals present in the substances, some of it it also caused by secondary effects. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is only partly physical. There are other factors that affect the brain too. For example, using involves habit and ritual. People tend to make time to use and do things in a certain way. Every time you repeat these behaviours, you scratch an itch. Put another way, your brain releases dopamine in anticipation that a craving will be satisfied. This is essentially the same mechanism drugs use to make you feel good.
Drugs and alcohol certainly do have physical effects, mostly on GABA, glutamate, and dopamine. These mask the mask the spike in dopamine caused by habitual use. What you see in gambling addiction is the effect of dopamine on its own. This is a real effect. Your brain doesn’t care whether the excess dopamine comes from cocaine or hitting 21 in blackjack. Eventually, your dopamine will down regulate and you will need more to feel normal. If you suddenly quit, you will experience withdrawal.
As with other addictions, how bad withdrawal symptoms are depends on how much you gambled and for how long. Symptoms typically include irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and cravings. Some people even experience insomnia, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
The good news is that these symptoms will eventually go away on their own. They aren’t dangerous like benzodiazepine of alcohol withdrawal. They can be intense, but they won’t kill you. If you find ways to cope, they will begin to fade after about a week. It may help to enter a treatment programme where you won’t be tempted during the roughest part of withdrawal. As with substance addiction, gambling is usually a way of coping with stress and anxiety. You will need to find ways managing stress and anxiety to prevent relapse. Therapy will probably help, along with meetings.
Smarmore Castle Private Clinic in County Louth, near Dublin was founded in 1988 as a residential rehabilitation hospital treating people suffering from drug and alcohol purposes. Smarmore Castle believes in helping patients lead a life of abstinence through 12 Step programmes, detox and medical treatment, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies. For more information, please call 041-214-5111. For those who live out of the country, the international number is 00353-41-214-5111.