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Other Forms of Addiction Still Have Withdrawal Symptoms

Not every addiction is chemical. People can be addicted to gambling, food, sex, and porn. Internet porn in particular has become a big problem in recent years as it has made porn free and essentially unlimited. Just because these addictions aren’t chemical doesn’t mean they aren’t real. They often are basic biological needs that have gotten completely out of control. People who try to give them up often suffer withdrawal, just as they might from a drug.

The mechanism of non-drug addictions is similar in the brain to that of any other addiction. Your dopamine system rewards certain behaviors by temporarily making you feel good when you perform that behavior. Drugs hack this system by creating a dopamine response directly. It’s like when a dog gets a treat without having to sit.

Non-drug addictions are usually a way of concentrating behaviors that would normally get a dopamine response. For example, if you eat a bowl of rice and vegetables, your brain gives a little reward for eating so you don’t die. If you eat something with loads of salt, fat, and sugar, your brain gets super excited because these things are scarce in nature, and eating a doughnut, for example, is like a caloric jackpot. But of course, this is America, and anyone but the poorest of the poor can have all the doughnuts he wants and his brain will just keep giving him the thumbs up.

This is disastrous for his health, but the dopamine system is just going to keep doing its thing–more or less. Just as you can develop a tolerance for drugs, you develop a tolerance for addictive behaviors. After a while, your brain starts to notice there is way too much dopamine floating around, and so it produces less. Then you need more doughnuts, or porn, or gambling to get the same reward. This is called down-regulation and it is the reason you can have withdrawal without drugs. When you quit the addictive behavior, your brain suddenly has far too little dopamine to function normally.

Withdrawal from non-drug addictions has some symptoms in common with drug withdrawal. The most common are irritability, anxiety, generally grumpiness, and cravings. Some people experience headaches, insomnia, lack of focus, and depression. As brain chemistry is complex and most neurotransmitters perform several functions, you may have mood swings or other strange feelings.

The cravings will distort your thinking the way drugs do. This is why food addiction, or eating disorders in general, is so challenging. You do have to eat, but you also have to stop eating, and the addicted mind has trouble managing those in the correct proportion. Unlike porn or gambling, withdrawal from food addiction includes hunger, which is a powerful craving that is actually linked to survival.

The good news is that unlike withdrawal from alcohol or benzos, withdrawal from behavioral addictions is not dangerous. It might be extremely uncomfortable, but it will eventually pass. It might take a month or two, depending on how long the addiction has persisted.


Just because an addiction doesn’t involve physical dependence the same way alcohol or opioids do doesn’t mean it’s not a real addiction. The cravings can be very strong and it can be even harder to avoid temptation and triggers. Gardens Wellness Center can help. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at