A week or two back, a friend tells me he’s figured out why I have so much trouble with cigarettes. I can’t wait to hear the latest theory downloaded from conspiracies-r-us and/or quack’s guide to neurotic living. Turns out that sugar is one of the hundreds of additives added to cigarettes, and he thinks that’s what makes it addictive. Say what? Are you fucking kidding me? SUGAR? You think my problem with cigarettes is SUGAR?
This is why I hate when the headlines make really inflammatory, vastly overstated headlines such as “sugar as addictive as heroin!” I concede that certain foods may set off certain reward pathways associated with it in some rats and people, but that doesn’t mean addiction. A search of some scientific-type articles found some interesting stuff.
“Harry Kissileff, a psychologist and specialist in human food intake at Columbia University. Kissileff agreed that Hoebel’s rats offer an important model system, but said he would be cautious about using them to put sugar in the same category as drugs.
In their experiments, Hoebel and colleagues in his lab started rats on a pattern of bingeing by withholding food for 12 hours when the rats were sleeping and through breakfast time, then giving them nutritionally balanced food plus sugar water. The animals gradually increased their daily sugar intake until it doubled, consuming most of it in the first hour it was available.
“There is some overlap between the systems that control food intake and addiction,” Kissileff said. “I am not sure they necessarily make food addictive.”
Animals that binged on normal food with no sugar and received the opioid blocker did not show these withdrawal signs. Animals that were given a steady diet of food and sugar water without bingeing also did not show signs of withdrawal.
“The implication,” said Hoebel, “is that some animals, and some people, can become overly dependent on sweet food, particularly if they periodically stop eating and then binge. This may relate to eating disorders such as bulimia.”
Did you catch that? There seem to be some tie-ins between restriction/bingeing cycles and addiction. Outside of ED, or diets that try to emulate them, it’s not really a good model. I know everyone claims to be a chocoholic, but it’s just not true
A neurobiologist examines how sugar is “like” a drug, and summarizes it all up in a nice, easy to understand manner (including background research). “I like sugar as much as the next guy, but I assert that an all-night coke jag is a bit different than staying in with a pint of Haagen Dazs.”
I think he’s right. Besides my own experience with cigarettes, I’ve had the displeasure of having two junkie housemates and one tweaker. The tweaker (crack/speed) when going through withdrawal, besides being a first-class asshole, imagined bugs all over and incessently scratched at himself. The junkie, who spend ALL of his time when clean attending 3 NA meetings daily, to get clean he had to have friends apply klonapin patches and chain him to a bed for a few days, far away enough out in the country that nobody could hear him scream. As all good junkies do, he kept going back to it, until he eventually o.d’d. The other junkie is still alive, and has switched over to crack (cheaper for someone on GA, disability). She looks like death warmed over, lives in a SRO hotel in an especially sketchy block of the Mission (SF). I see her occasionally, she’s 50 going on 75, doesn’t even recognize me. I think I’ll bring her up next time someone tells me how fat people are costing so much money. I cringe when anyone says ciggies are as addictive as heroin, that doesn’t seem right either. If they’re harder to quit, it’s because they’re everywhere, acceptable, legal, very easy to get, which isn’t quite the same as being equally addictive. Food is even easier, more available, cheaper, but without the physical addicton.
I think processed food/sugar is more compulsion than addiction. If you want a better thought out summary, Michelle is much clearer.
And lastly, if you want to try to make the big bucks this holiday season with your own asinine diet, here’s a website to help you. Happy holidays!