Food addiction can be a cross addiction when you stop using drugs and alcohol

Food addiction is a thing, and there’s no blame in how anybody eats or what anybody eats. After all, we all have our weak spots when it comes to food. Are you in love with salty snacks? They’re everywhere and addictive. What about pastries and candy? Sugar is addictive, too. You don’t have to be in recovery to need comfort foods that are easy to get and don’t seem harmful, especially if you’ve used drugs and alcohol to soothe yourself in the past.

This article is about having a healthy relationship with food along with healing from other addictions

Understanding the disease of addiction helped me understand my brain chemistry. In recovery, I realized I wasn’t alone and there was a solution to my compulsion for drugs. However, when I discovered the meaning of cross addiction, it changed my life and allowed me to recover on a new level. The longer I am sober, the more people I find who share this experience. Drugs and alcohol are merely symptoms of our disease. When we take them away, it is easy for other symptoms to manifest making cross addiction a common battle for those in recovery — especially a cross addiction to food.

Cross addiction is when a primary addiction is arrested and other addictions or compulsive behaviors pop up in its place. Exercise can be a cross addiction, smoking can be one, love can be one, too. And then there’s food…

As addicts, we love to feel good and will abuse anything that make us feel that way. Many are at risk of abusing sex, gambling, relationships, videogames, exercise, tobacco, and body modifications when we stop using our drug of choice. However, the seemingly most innocent and easy to abuse compulsion is food.

How to feel good again when craving dopamine

When drugs or alcohol enter the system of an addict, it catalyzes bursts of dopamine in the brain. This chemical is responsible for our pleasure response; therefore, it makes us feel euphoric and reinforces the drug craving and abuse. Take away the substance and the brain still craves that satisfaction. This is when other forms of feel-good behaviors will create the same euphoric effect on the brain. With food as a cross addiction, certain foods or overeating become the new drug for individuals who develop cross addiction. Eating stimulates the same brain channels and produces effects similar to the same euphoria from drugs and alcohol.

Bethany overate as her cross addiction

Eight years ago, I was in long-term treatment with a girl named Bethany. She developed a cross addiction to food while we were there — she would overeat. Her appetite was never satisfied and she literally gained comfort in eating. Early on in her stay, she noticed her weight gain and started feeling uncomfortable physically. I remember her telling me that she couldn’t cross her legs and that really bothered her. So she switched from eating a poor diet to lots of chicken, frits, and vegetables. She stayed away from processed foods and unnatural sugars. She even compulsively worked out burning at least 500 calories a day, but she continued to gain weight.

Beth couldn’t get her portions under control. With the drugs out of her system, her mind was satisfying itself with compulsive eating. And even eating healthily didn’t prevent a weight gain that affected her physically. She was eating more protein than her body knew what to do with. Same with the other foods. Although healthy, her body couldn’t process the calories.

The endless cycle of one addiction after another requires therapy

Fortunately, Bethany’s therapist shared the meaning of cross addiction with her, and she started working on her holistic recovery. Bethany started introducing herself as a cross-addicted alcoholic which truly helped her identify with her malady. In fact, it is because of Beth that I was first exposed to the concept of this endless cycle of one addiction being arrested and other popping up — like whack-a-mole.

The dreaded sugar addiction

Another example is my fiancé’s buddy, Jeff, who has a sugar addiction. When he craves sugar, he literally has a one-track mind. He is overcome by the phenomenon of craving and is quite moody until he gets his fix. He loves putting applesauce and ketchup on food items to sweeten them up … even honey. Jeff’s told me that he sleeps with chocolate by his bedside because he gets cravings throughout the night. Sugar cravings, withdrawal, and detox are real, let me tell you. He always has to eat something sweet and even gets headaches when he doesn’t. As a double whammy, not only does sugar activate dopamine in the brain, it also catalyzes natural opioid neurotransmitters that fuel addiction. Therefore craving sugar or an addiction to sugar is very common among recovering drug addicts.

8 common symptoms of a food addiction

  1. Having cravings despite feeling full
  2. Eating more than intended
  3. Eating beyond feeling excessively stuffed
  4. Feeling guilty but then doing it again and again
  5. Making up excuses for eating
  6. Fails at setting rules about eating
  7. Hiding eating from others
  8. Unable to stop despite having physical problems

These are classic symptoms of addiction. You have no stop button when doing it. You want it even when it feels bad. You can’t end the cycle even if it threatens your health, or even your life.

Just like recovering from drugs, recovering from co-occurring addictions is totally possible! Cross addiction requires special care, and it’s suggested you find a professional specializing in what you’re struggling with. Finding a therapist concentrating in food addiction, a nutritionist, and eating-related 12-step programs are very helpful in addressing your cross addiction and allowing you to regain a healthy relationship with food. There are even treatment centers unique to cross addiction that will help you get back on track.

No matter what your addiction, recovery is possible. Food cravings and overeating may feel impossible to overcome, because eating is such a natural part of everyday life. And required! Don’t forget that — we need food to fuel our bodies.What kind of food recovery works? Just like any other addiction, a problem is identified when our lives become unmanageable. We want to create a healthy life with food … not one run by it.


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Alexandra Ashe
Alexandra is a sober woman who loves animals, writing, nature, horror movies, fitness, and self-improvement. After suffering a relapse in late 2016, she revamped her lifestyle and has been sober since March 2017. She is also the CEO and founder of Kinkatopia, which is the only kinkajou-specific organization in the world. Alexandra literally lives and breathes kinkajous — in addition to working a full-time career, taking care of her health, and giving back to the world in other ways. She is a woman on a mission ... the Mother of Kinkajous. Follow Alexandra’s articles to relish her experiences staying sober and running a kinkajou sanctuary. There is never a dull moment, that’s a promise. Kinkatopia.org

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