Sugar and Junk Food Play along with Abusive Addictions
Sugar and highly processed junk foods can have the same effect as drugs, alcohol, and nicotine abuse. The diet needs to be addressed to support re-establishing healthy brain pathways which will enhance long-term recovery.
All addictions have one huge factor, the brain’s pathways are “commandeered” by intense dopamine signal. The dopamine pathways are supposed to guide people towards survival. The takeover by non-food stimulus is enhanced releasing more dopamine and is a much stronger behavioral reinforcer than anything in the natural environment. Hence the challenges with re-wiring these behaviors.
Due to their powerful effect on the reward centers of the brain, sugar, and other junk foods, function similarly to substances of abuse like opiates, cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine. The exact same brain centers are at play. People who have a particular predisposition to addiction become addicted to these foods just like any addictive behavior and lose control over their consumption.
When consuming foods that contain a lot of sugar, a massive amount of dopamine is released in an area of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens. When these foods are eaten often in large quantities, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate making fewer receptors. To clarify, the next time sugar and junk foods are eaten, their effect is dulled needing more sugar/junk food to get the same level of reward. Sound familiar?
Using or allowing sugar and other junk foods to be consumed during the recovery process only helps switching the addiction and actually continues to support the negative brain chemistry at the root of the physical problem. The abuser just changes his or her go to fix and does not solve or support the changes needed for long-term recovery.
Here are just a few of the similarities between sugar/junk food and other addictions:
- Sugar/Junk Foods flood the brain with dopamine
- Sugar/Junk Foods can generate and feed powerful cravings
- Imaging studies have shown junk foods light up the same brain areas as drugs of abuse
- Tolerance to The “rewarding” effects builds up
- Abstaining can lead to withdrawal symptoms
- Cross-Sensitization Verified: Lab animals can be switch from drugs to sugar and vice versa
- Junk foods are seriously harmful to physical health as they are nutrient deficient
They are high in harmful ingredients like refined wheat, preservatives, colorings, refined oils on top of the added sugars including artificial substitutes. Sugar/junk foods contain very small amounts of healthy ingredients, if any, like fiber, protein and micronutrients. How can this support healing of the body, let alone the mind which is struggling for control?
Addicts are generally in poor health and junk food makes people eat more than they’re supposed to. The ingredients in them (like the sugar and refined carbs) are strongly linked to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Recovery is about healing and helping the client to improve their lives on all levels is key to long term success for them.
Those with a predisposition to addictive behaviors need to be aware of ‘legal’ addictions that are contributing and supportive to their challenges. There is no fundamental difference between sugar/junk food addiction and drug addiction. It’s just a different substance of abuse and the social consequences aren’t as severe. This just prolongs and supports the problems which eventually manifest in other ways.
When in treatment and building a recovery plan, nutrition, and diet should be considered equal partners to all other tools used in the process. Why not go through all the withdrawals and clean out the toxins at the same time?
Supporting the person in recovery with a healthy nutrition plan will help both body and mind healing. Continuing to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. The client going through the process will have a much more complete recovery if the body, mind and spirit are healing.