Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Am I Addicted to My Addictions?

© Russ Beck, May 2010

Photo: Dorina Andress (Eberswalde), Wikimedia Commons

Last month's article elicited a comment from Anonymous, who asked if emotional eating is considered an addiction. As I thought about it, I felt compelled to address the issue.

Years ago, the term addiction referred specifically to the use of drugs and alcohol. Both of those create a chemical dependency which causes the body to require more and more of the drug/alcohol in order to reach the same level of desired result. When the user stops taking it, the body goes into withdrawal, which is a very painful physiological process. In many instances, without proper medical intervention withdrawal can lead to death. For example, an alcoholic who drinks excessively may go into a drunken stupor and have DTs (delirium tremens). Ultimately, the individual may experience hallucinations, along with severe, life threatening neurological and physiological changes.

The American Psychiatric Association gives the following indicators for addiction and dependence (three or more of the following in a twelve-month period).

1.Tolerance as defined by any of the following:
• a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect
• markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance

2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
• the characteristic withdrawal symptom of the substance
• the same or a closely related substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

3. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended (loss of control)

4. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use (loss of control)

5. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance or recover from its effects (preoccupation)

6. Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use (continuation despite adverse consequences)

7. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (adverse consequences)

Today, however, the word "addiction" has taken on a much broader meaning, and a new term is floating aroundbehavioral addiction. This idiom covers all addictive actions which are not in connection with alcohol or drugs. It's now common for people to refer to a vast array of addictions:
Eating (particularly junk food)

These are just some of the “addictions” which have been mentioned in the news. There are recent articles about tanning beds being addictive and even the addictive properties of salt. In the midst of all this, some scientists are quick to blame genetics, and on April 26, 2010, the BBC reported on a study that states individuals can blame their genes if they smoke too much.

It seems there is no end to the number or types of addictions.

The difficulty with the above behaviors being classified as addictions is that there is a denial of the concept of personal responsibility. Can one really be addicted to a behavior? Or is it perhaps not an addiction, but a developed habit with psychological dependencies that make it very difficult to break? When someone is actually addicted to a drug, there is a real loss of control over at least a portion of his/her actions. The individual can’t help himself, because he is, after all, addicted. Addicts generally have to go through a detox process where the substance abused is reduced until none is needed.

And therein lies the real conundrum with behavioral addictions.

In my experience, most people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs deny it for a very long time. People with “behavioral addictions” are quick to say they are addicted. The question is ... if both are real addictions, why is there a difference between the two? Is the difference an indicator, or just happenstance? This is an issue that Anonymous needs to ponder, as well as considering what is to be gained/lost by saying emotional eating is an addiction. However, regardless of addiction or habit, in order to break the cycle there are triggers which must be recognized and dealt with. Perhaps that's an issue that in Anonymous' case is key to changing the emotional eating pattern.

Triggers are a certainly a topic worth pursuing, and so I'll use them as a starting point for my next discussion.

Until then …

~ Russ


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1 comment:

  1. Interesting thoughts on addictions. It seems there are so many "new" addictions, and you do have to wonder if some of them can really be classified as addictions, or simply as behavioral problems. I suppose it doesn't really matter ... what counts is learning how to deal with and overcome them.

    Thanks for an interesting blog.