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Is there anything in common between eating too much and getting high from cocaine? You’d probably say “no”. Eating disorders may be considered less serious than drug abuse, but scientific data show that food addiction is quite similar to drug addiction, and so are the consequences of both unhealthy behaviours. It might seem not right to compare a junkie to a person, who can’t resist eating “one more” cupcake or burger. However, scientists and specialists in the medical sphere are convinced that drug addiction and excessive eating share way too many symptoms to ignore.

Beautiful Young Woman choosing between Fruits and Sweets

So what makes food addiction similar to drug addiction?

Excessive or unhealthy intake

Human behavior defined as addiction has specific characteristics. Excessive intake that gets out of control and becomes unhealthy is definitely one of them. Just as a drug-addicted person requires another dose to move on, compulsive eaters crave more food and experience discomfort when they try to cut junk food from their diet. According to studies food could be even more addictive than drugs are. It is supported by the fact that a big part of the population is overweight, while less than 20% of those who use drugs become addicted. Compulsive eating leads not only to addiction but also to obesity. And in a process of holistic rehabilitation (check this)  eating disorders are treated as both addiction and a reason of overweight.

basket of fruit and vegetables

Tolerance and dopamine imbalance

Another similarity that food and drug addiction share is the way they affect our brain. Whenever we experience or get something really good that makes us feel happy and safe our brain receives a dose of dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and motivation. People have inbuilt dopamine receptors that create a system of reward and motivation – behavior and substances that boost our dopamine are considered useful by our brain, and it gives us joy and pleasure as a reward. In a case of excessive intake, these brain regions are overwhelmed by signals from tasty food, drugs or alcohol and dopamine receptors become less sensitive. Imbalance in the dopamine system creates addiction – a person gradually craves more substances and gets less pleasure from them, which leads to even stronger craving.

pile of various tablets in a variety of colours and shapes

Associated mental disorders

One of the main reasons people become addicted is a lack of self-care skills, painful experiences, helplessness, and psychological pain. A distressed person seeks help and relief and often finds comfort in food, drugs or alcohol as they provide almost instant pleasure and calmness. However, neither drugs nor food can give every time as much relief as they did initially, and in order to self soothe person needs more and more substances, therefore intake becomes excessive. When this reaction to stress becomes a habit, a person ultimately becomes addicted. According to researches a big part of those who have addictive habits and engage in holistic recovery programs suffer from other disorders, among which are depression, attention deficit, and anxiety disorders.

Craving and withdrawal symptoms

Distinguishing characteristics of drug abuse are withdrawal symptoms – physical and mental discomfort when a person tries to break addictive patterns. Discomfort caused by attempts to quit is another mutual characteristic of compulsive eating and drug addiction. Turns out that people with food addiction experience similar things when they try to change eating habits. Food addiction withdrawal symptoms could be as intense as those for drug addicted. They include distress, anxiety, aggression, tremor, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, dizziness and other discomforts that push a person towards another “dose”.

Group Of Overweight People Attending Diet Club

Shame, guilt, and self-soothing vicious cycle

As was said earlier, depression, anxiety, and other highly unpleasant psychological conditions often lead to addictive behaviour patterns. By drowning these unwanted feelings in excessive eating or drugs consumption a person becomes temporarily satisfied, but soon feels shame and guilt for such behaviour. Guilt causes depression and anxiety and forces a person to seek solace again, resulting in addictive intake once again. Ultimately the vicious guilt-addiction cycle closes, making it hard for a person to control food or drug intake on one’s own. Obesity as a result of binge eating also makes food addicted feel embarrassed and even more uneasy, as a stigma on overweight people is unfortunately still strong in society.

Couple toasting wine glasses

Denial

In order to protect our habits, we resort to many psychological defense mechanisms, to which we could be oblivious. One of them is denial which in case of addictions often works as a safety bag. “I don’t have issues” or “I can stop anytime I want” – sounds familiar? Denial doesn’t let us admit that something wrong is going on with us, and it is another characteristic that drug and food addiction share.

Young caucasian woman in black coat

Failures in quitting

Despite obvious negative consequences and due to the above mentioned denial mechanism both food and drug addicted people find it hard to quit. Willpower alone is not enough to fix these states. Drug addiction notorious consequences may seem more dangerous than something excessive eating can cause, however food addiction leads to many life-threatening conditions and diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and it significantly diminishes quality of life just as drug addiction does.

So even though we might have thought that there’s not that much in common between abusing drugs and being unable to put aside some food, drug and food addiction have noticeable similarities. Characteristics in relation to food that resemble drug addiction are brain reward dysfunction, impaired control, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, social impairment, chronicity, and relapse. From origins associated to symptoms and consequences both addictions work as an unhealthy self-soothing habit.

Fighting any kind of addiction is a complex and not an easy task, the main purpose of which is to restore harmony between body, brain, and mind of an addicted person. An important thing to understand for those who are willing to try holistic rehab from any kind of an addiction is that it should be concentrated not only on utilizing medications and fixing neurotransmitters systems but also on restoring and rebuilding coping mechanisms. Sometimes drugs and food may come hand in hand as relaxation methods, and that’s why establishing proper and healthy nutrition is an important step in the healing process. Depression, obesity and other consequences of abuse work as a signal for us, that something is not right. So next time you feel a temptation to eat even when you’re not hungry, ask yourself, maybe it’s just the right time to change something?

What food and drug addiction share in common?

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