This is part 2 of the eating disorder and addiction similarity article. In this section I will discuss the section “Drug addiction and the brain” from the Help.org site. Again, the similarities between the afflictions are something to be noted.
“Taking a recreational drug causes a surge in levels of dopamine in your brain, which trigger feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated.”
People with bulimia often report feeling some sort of high after vomiting. I recall having that same experience many times after a “nice purge.” I also recall having a nice high feeling after depriving myself of food. I loved the “light” feeling and knowing I could control what I ate and how it moved through my body. My brain remembered feeling good each time I prayed over the porcelain god. My brain remembered the pleasure I took from food deprivation.
“If you become addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking.”
After a while the bulimic will sometimes vomit after eating without thought and without even trying. Personally, I was so “good” at this that all I had to do was think I wanted to vomit my food and I would. Plus I had to engage in this behavior if I wanted to avoid anxiety. If I did not purge the anxiety levels were so high I would often send myself into a panic attack. Physically my body would often have to purge itself. This would happen when I ate too much (well normal amounts for most) because my body could not physically contain the food I would finally allow it to have. It was no longer a choice not to vomit or to eat small amounts.
“Changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control your behavior, and feel normal without drugs.”
Just like an addict a person with an eating disorder has to participate in these behaviors to feel normal. The anorexic can lose brain mass with years of starvation causing memory loss and loss of rational thought. Also, an eating disordered brain becomes so pickled in obsessive thoughts that one cannot just stop without feeling lost or anxious. Physical and mental realms of the body go through withdrawal when the behavior is stopped. It is an addiction to both the thought and the physical process of an eating disorder.
“Whether you’re addicted to inhalants, heroin, Xanax, speed, or Vicodin, the uncontrollable craving to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even your own health and happiness.”
Thoughts of food and how to restrict and when to eat or when to vomit become such a part of the eating disordered person’s life that they will do anything to avoid social situations in which food is involved. Friends get left behind as the person shuns social situations and makes excuses not to leave the house. Sometimes the disordered person is very social in public but in private has no one to lean on because everyone he/she trusted has become an enemy that is trying to make them eat, not vomit, or get help for their over-eating. Many people lose jobs because they are not healthy enough to function in a normal daily fashion.
“The urge to use is so strong that your mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. You may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs you’re taking, how much it impacts your life, and the level of control you have over your drug use.”
A person with an eating disorder can easily rationalize the amount of food they eat or do not eat. For the compulsive overeater they rationalize by saying they will cut back later in the day or that they will go on a diet tomorrow. The anorexic can rationalize by saying they are eating more than they really are and that they are just trying to be healthy. Some say they are trying a new style of eating, such as becoming a vegetarian. The bulimic can rationalize by saying “just one more time.” They will often make promises to themselves that they will not binge and purge later, and that they will control how much they eat so they do not have to purge afterward.
It is a dark world to live in filled with lies, rationalizations and betrayal of the self and others. The world of an eating disorder is so much like the world of addiction. It is no wonder the two are often found within the same person hiding behind the same shadows. There is the incessant need to fill a void and a space that nothing has yet to fill. What will fill that void? Drugs? Alcohol? Eating disorders?