Very few of us would correlate drug addiction with food addiction but recent studies show that food can have many of the same psychological and physiological effects as hard drugs. While on the surface food is harmless and difficult to take seriously as an addiction, many foods contain the same substances that cause heroin, cocaine, and morphine addictions. Thus while the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that there are over 24.5 million drug and alcohol addicts in the United States, food addiction and obesity are a much larger problem. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics shows that 34.9% of Americans are overweight or obese and the FDA suggests that there are over 70 million persons in the USA with a food addiction.
The following include the 7 most striking similarities between food and drug addiction.
1. Tolerance Increases Over Time – Increasing tolerance is a well understood facet of drug abuse, but it also applies to food addiction. Food addicts will eat more over time especially when addicted to sugar. This happens because the brain reaches a tolerance for the current dopamine levels and the dopamine receptors become denser. This causes the addict to eat more to reach the same effect. Drug users typically experience the same growth of tolerance which results in binging, just like with food. 2. Patients Experience Physical and Mental Withdrawal Symptoms – Withdrawal symptoms are a common part of drug addiction, but food addicts can experience them and with equal intensity. Sugar withdrawal results in anger, anxiety, appetite changes, cravings, depression, severe headaches, fatigue, insomnia, mood changes, shaking, malaise (flu like symptoms including fever, sweating, general pain), and even dizziness. If those sound familiar, they are extremely similar to the withdrawal symptoms for most drugs. 3. Persons with a Mental Disorder Are More Likely to Be Addicts – Anyone who is unhappy, depressed, anxious, lonely, or suffering from a mental disorder is significantly more likely to become addicted to food. This also holds true with drugs. Most researchers correlate this increased risk of addiction to self-medication, where you try to make yourself feel better with the extra flood of dopamine to the brain. Essentially comfort eating of any kind is the same behavior that leads to drug addiction. 4. Anti-Addiction Drugs Treat Food Addictions – Most people aren’t aware that the same drugs used to treat drug, alcohol, and nicotine addictions are effective in treating food addicts. Naltrexone and Bupropion are both used to treat food addictions as well as heroin and nicotine addictions. 5. Food Addicts Experience Real Cravings – Drug and food addicts both experience real physical and mental cravings and dependence. Physical symptoms of cravings include headache, irritability, mood swings, depression, and similar. Mental symptoms include anxiety, a feeling of ‘need’, a strong desire for the drug or food, and mentally trying to convince yourself to get or do it. These symptoms are remarkably similar because they come from the same place in the brain, the reward center. 6. Guilt Cycles Cause Heavier Abuse – Addiction is often a vicious cycle in which users make themselves feel bad, follow through on their addiction to feel better, feel bad about returning to the addiction, and then try to make themselves feel better again. This cycle of guilt and abuse is the same for drug users as well as food addicts. For example, in one study, participants who binged on a meal were plagued with guilt and were more likely to binge again than those who binged and did not feel guilty. 7. Addiction is Caused by Dopamine – Dopamine is a well understood part of the ‘reward’ system in the brain. It is naturally created by the body when you do things that are good for you like eating a meal, exercising, or spending time with friends and family. Most scientists believe that this is intended to encourage healthy behavior by ensuring that the brain is rewarded each time it follows through on a healthy activity. However, dopamine is also responsible for addiction. Food and certain drugs can light up the reward centers in the brain, flooding it with dopamine and serotonin that make you feel good. Over time, you build up a tolerance to that dopamine and need more to achieve the same effects. And, foods can be just as bad as drugs. Certain foods like sweets and fat rich foods offer more ‘reward’ to your brain, because before the past 100 years, food was scarce, and those fat rich foods could be life saving. There are also more complex sources of dopamine in food. For example, if you eat dairy, you’re susceptible to casomorphins, which are created by a mother during milk production to provide a sedative effect for the baby. In humans, it can release extra dopamine causing a high chance of addiction. Sugar is even worse. In some studies, rats and mice were shown to prefer sugar as a drug over cocaine. Food addiction can be a serious problem, and for many some type of addiction treatment is necessary. In addition to getting physical and psychological therapy, you may need a doctor’s guidance to carefully cut the sources of your addiction, recognize the reasons behind the addiction, and go back to living your life. Addiction is serious, and food addictions are not an exception. If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction or alcoholism, please contact Oceanfront Recovery today to discuss addiction treatment options. One of our professional, experienced, and concerned admissions advisors will speak with you at 877-279-1777 today in complete confidence.