Drug Addict Status

     If you are a binge eater, even if you have never seen the research, you know that there are similarities between food addiction and drug addiction. A recent study showing that you can get hooked on food the same way you can get hooked on drugs is detailed here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/04/04/food.drug.addiction.same.to.brain/index.html
This study found what binge eaters sense – that in the brains of some, certain foods can “elicit cravings and trigger responses similar to those caused by addictive drugs.”  
     I think binge eaters sometimes find comfort in studies like these which confirm their suspicions that their behavior is indeed addictive. “It’s my crack,” I’ve often heard binge eaters and even non-binge eaters say when talking about their favorite foods; and when studies come out that prove food can really be “like crack” to the body and brain, it validates what they already suspect to be true. I know when I was a binge eater, I certainly found comfort in thinking I was “like a drug addict.”  But, why is this? Why did I find comfort in giving myself drug addict status?
     I think likening myself to someone addicted to drugs made my problem more legitimate in my mind. It seemed all to weird, disgusting, and embarrassing to be hooked on enormous amounts of food; but if binge eating were indeed as addictive as shooting heroin, then maybe I wasn’t merely crazy or gluttonous after all. If I were like a drug addict, then maybe I really couldn’t control myself, I thought; and that’s precisely what the study linked above suggests.
     The lead author of the study said that food addiction is “a combination of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition.” But, just because we can see “intense wanting” and “disinhibition” light up on a brain scan, does that mean the person has no control? I believe, even if there is some bungled brain circuitry causing someone to crave too much pleasurable food too intensely, and even if there is some under-activity in the executive areas of the brain that can inhibit actions; the person can still find ways to overcome those brain wiring issues. As humans, we can rise above our intense wanting for the greater good, and we can learn to inhibit.   
     While I think studies like the one above are useful, I think we have to be careful as a society not to give too many negative behaviors addiction status and not let differences in brain scans excuse too many actions. We could run into major problems if we eventually say that “intense wanting coupled with disinhibition” renders people helpless to control themselves. I can think of many wrong actions where this combination of intense wanting and disinhibition is present. Think of criminal offenses as extreme examples – shoplifting, robbery, rape; and moral dilemmas such as affairs, teen promiscuity, and pornography. Also, think of small children – every day they exhibit behaviors indicative of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition. If my daughter’s brain were to be scanned while she is shown a picture of a toy, I’m sure those same “intense wanting” areas would light up in her brain. Does this mean she must have the toy? It’s the same with the subjects in the study above.  It’s not a food addict’s fault they want the pleasurable food more and in greater amounts than others do; but in most cases, despite the brain processes at work, they still remain capable of learning to say no. 
     To recover from binge eating, I had to believe I could indeed control myself – whether I labeled my problem an “addiction” or not. I had to dismiss the belief that “intense wanting” could make me do anything. Strong desire is nothing in and of itself – it cannot make one act, and I had a choice or whether or not to let it get the best of me.  Once I stopped letting it get the best of me – in other words, once I learned to inhibit – the intense wanting subsided.  

4 thoughts on “Drug Addict Status

  1. i am so releived to find your book and blog, i have been searching for something like this, thank you for sharing your story! miner is identical. i am struggling with binging and purging right now. and am trying to seek help first oin the internet and with books because i just dont have money for professional help. i recently told my husband about my addiction of over 7 years and he is so supportive and on board to help. i look forward to reading more of your blogs!

  2. Binge eating needs utmost attention before serious health issues would take over. Those who are affected are often ashamed to open up to specialists. Good thing there are blogs like this that inspire and educate.

  3. Kathryn,

    Not sure if you still review the comments from older posts, but if you do I’m rather confused about the above topic, addiction, and how to utilize your AV mentioned in your book.

    We have a higher brain most indeed, but if we are addicted to sugar for instance, every time we ingest the addictive substance wouldn’t it be a struggle? For instance, if a recovering heroin addict decided to try heroin again, even knowing they can stop at any point because they have a higher brain, they would still probably relapse. The struggle would be just as hard after the first use.

    What you are saying is just listen to your higher brain, your AV. Isn’t that the same thing as will power? Binge eating aside, always wanting more sugar when you ingest it only to over come the issue with will power seems similar to what our first and primary response is: willpower. If that is indeed the case, my choices would be: eat the sugary treat because I shouldn’t restrict myself all the time and feel uncomfortable wanting more OR abstain from the treat because my higher brain is telling me I will only want more and more, which is also another uncomfortable scenario.

    I’m just a little confused. Sugar has a deviant hold on me, but I relate to your statement of not restricting. Any extra thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

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