I recently did a Facebook Live on sugar addiction. Being an addict myself (5/5/88 is my sobriety date) as well as a volunteer addictions counselor since 1992, addiction is a topic of intense interest for me.
The topic is extremely complex so I break it down into manageable pieces. Plus, it’s a surprisingly controversial subject! I guess we addicts don’t like anyone shining a light on our dependence issues.
(Yeah, like who would?)
So, here’s what I’ve learned so far. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
SHOW NOTES + LINKS
- Definitions (0:40)
- What things can be addicting? (1:50)
- About OCD (4:00)
- Cravings (4:24)
- Physical dependence (5:00)
- Prescription drugs (6:20)
- Emotional dependence (7:20)
- Recap (8:20)
VITALITY PI PARTNERS
TRANSCRIPT: Is Sugar Addiction a “Real” Thing?
Today I’m talking about addiction. I meet a lot of people who have trouble with sugar. But are they sugar addicts? Hmmmm. There are some FAQs that pertain to all addiction, including sugar addiction.
First, 4 definitions so we are all on the same page. I got the definitions from Webster’s.
Addiction: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal
Dependence: the quality or state of being influenced or determined by, or subject to another [so what you do is influenced by an external force]
Craving: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing
Drug of Choice: 12-step jargon meaning the substance/activity to which you are addicted
WHAT SUBSTANCES/ACTIVITIES ARE ADDICTING?
People talk about being addicted to everything: fresh air, exercise, their sig other, work, chocolate, nuts, marathons, martinis, gambling… Of course, not all those things are addicting. More to the point, even those that CAN be addicting aren’t addicting for everyone.
When we hear people talk about being addicted to whatever their latest passion is, it fosters the notion that all things can be addicting, that it’s the THING that causes the addiction.
THIS IS THE #1 INCORRECT ASSUMPTION ABOUT ADDICTION
It’s the chicken and egg question: does the substance make you an addict or are you an addict looking for a substance?
From a scientific perspective, it’s clearly the second: addicts are people looking for a substance/activity to fill a need.
Here’s why: if the substance made you an addict, then everyone who ate sugar would be a sugar addict. Everyone who used cocaine would be a cocaine addict. Everyone who gambled. Everyone who drank.
But that is clearly not the case.
Headlines like “Sugar is more addicting than cocaine” fosters this crazy notion that the THING is addicting and you better watch out. Sugar is not more addicting than cocaine FOR EVERYONE. Only for sugar addicts!
Addicts get addicted. Non-addicts don’t.
If you are an addict, you were one long before you found your drug of choice.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
Addiction is an OCD behavior — obsessive compulsive — involving a substance/activity, the drug of choice. First, we mentally obsess on the thing, then we compulsively do it. That’s why the definition of addiction has the term “compulsive need.”
Cravings are NOT a want, cravings are a NEED: “I gotta have it.”
Cravings are a feature of addiction and all addicts experience cravings. Cravings are what drive us to action.
Non-addicts have cravings, too, but it might just be a passing phase. I love kombucha and sometimes I really need some… but I’m not going to walk to Kroger in the snow to get it. (32 years ago, I would have for a beer.)
The point is that just because you have cravings doesn’t mean you’re an addict. You might just love the thing.
Physical dependence is when you take the thing away and you suffer physical withdrawals — the definition calls this “physiological symptoms”. These withdrawal symptoms range from annoying and painful (caffeine headache, brain fog) to cramping so severe you could die.
Does your withdrawal keep you from work, from participating in life? Do you suffer cramps, headaches, nausea, vomiting, constipation/diarrhea, brain fog? The severity of your physical withdrawal is indicative of your level of physical dependence.
Physical withdrawal symptoms also depend on the drug: the physical withdrawal from heroin is far worse than from sugar. Alcohol withdrawal can kill you. That said, only a small population of addicts have withdrawal symptoms so severe they require medical intervention to survive it.
Just to be clear: physical dependence is not addiction. It’s a component of addiction, but that alone is not addiction. More on that below.
PRESCRIPTION MEDS & PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE
When you are forced to take opiate drugs over time, your body can become physically dependent on that drug.
Being physically dependent on a substance is not addiction. It’s physical dependence.
Once you clear your body of the drug on which it’s become dependent, you no longer physically need it.
If you’ve cleared the drug and you still obsess over it and can’t stay off it, that’s emotional, that’s compulsive and that’s addiction.
Physical dependence alone is not addiction. It must have the emotional component.
All addicts suffer emotional dependence. All of us. If we weren’t emotionally needy, we would not be addicts. Addicts use their drug of choice to fill a need. In the 12-step world, they call it “emotionally and spiritually bankrupt.” We are looking for something to fill the void, the black hole.
The emotional dependence part is where the real work comes in. The physical withdrawal can be painful and trying, but that part is fixed relatively quickly. For most of us, stay off your drug of choice for two weeks, your physical dependence is over. Of course, your physical recovery from that dependence may take quite some time… but the dependence itself is over.
Reversing emotional dependence requires inspection and change and far more time. Worth every minute!!! Because if you don’t resolve your emotional dependence, you will always be a suffering addict rather than a recovering addict.
TO RECAP on ADDICTION
1. Addiction is an OCD behavior: we obsess about our drug of choice, then we compulsively do it.
2. The DRUG OF CHOICE is a symptom of the disease, not the disease. An addict is a person looking for a drug of choice to relieve the emotional burden. Sugar didn’t make you an addict, alcohol didn’t make me a drunk — addicts are looking for relief, which they will eventually find in their drug of choice.
3. Physical dependence alone is not addiction. It must have the emotional component.
Next time we’ll talk about the cure: how to get on top of both the physical and emotional dependence. And don’t worry, not everybody has to go to those meetings!