As discussed above, addictions are both physical and psychological; therefore, the process of quitting an addictive substance or activity has both physiological and emotional ramifications. All addictions affect the brain’s reward’ center (part of the limbic system). Usually, the brain responds to pleasurable experiences by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of pleasure. When addictive substances and behaviors take over, large amounts of dopamine flood the system, causing the ‘high’ that often leads to addiction.
Over time, the brain begins to change as a result of this unnatural flow of neurotransmitters—it begins to make less dopamine and reduces the number of dopamine receptors. For the addict, it becomes impossible to feel pleasure without the addictive substance or activity, causing the psychological aspect of withdrawal. The recovering addict may experience anxiety, insomnia, depression, or other emotional symptoms.
Physical withdrawal takes place because the body develops a physical dependence. These withdrawal symptoms vary by the specific substance, but may include anxiety, insomnia, sweating, nausea, vomiting, tremors, and tightness in the chest.