Replacing drugs with food after detox and rehab
Many people who formerly struggled with drugs and alcohol turn to food after detox and rehab. Drug and alcohol addictions are frequently granted a serious approach while binge eating and food addictions are not, despite the research to show that there are strong similarities between drug and alcohol addiction, and food addiction. Both these addictions affect the brain almost identically.
For instance, repeatedly taking drugs, drinking, or consuming processed foods (refined grains, food with any added sugar, sweeteners, trans fats, extra salts) that have similar effects of commonly abused drugs are also those most commonly linked to food addictions.
Upon ingestion, the brain releases dopamine in its reward center, which makes us feel good and compels us to keep repeating that action. It is a result of a compromise made between the brain’s prefrontal cortex and limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making decisions and problem solving. The reward center is located in the limbic system, which governs the brain’s pleasure-seeking behavior.
While consuming carbohydrates is not bad in and of itself (a considerable amount is necessary for a healthy diet and functioning brain), the overconsumption of them will harm your brain chemistry and of course induce an unhealthy amount of weight gain. This overconsumption tricks the brain in much the same way that the drugs or alcohol does–with the release of an overabundance of dopamine. In an effort to reinstate equilibrium, the brain diminishes the number of dopamine receptors and now has a difficult time receiving a healthy amount of dopamine.
This brings us to our subject at hand–the risk for developing or continuing a food addiction after detox or rehab. About 65 percent of people find that they gain weight after detox and rehabilitation. As a result, nearly 20 percent of former drug and alcohol addicts are finding themselves struggling with uncontrollable eating and behavior that fits the criteria of a food addiction.
Among women in treatment for substance use disorders (SUD), nearly 40 percent of them have an eating disorder. Men too, report binge eating and seesawing weight gain, especially during the first six months of treatment. Such addicts recovering from other addictions frequently confess to an unhealthy amount of food cravings replacing their cravings for drugs or alcohol, especially highly processed foods loaded with sugar and salt.
Those recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction likely have less dopamine receptors in their brain’s limbic or reward center, resulting in common instances of impulsive behavior and emotional disorganization. Dopamine receptors don’t regenerate directly upon cessation of the drugs or alcohol. It is not hard to imagine foods having similar effects on the brain replacing the previous substance of abuse.
Those currently in the drug detox stage or handling the aftermath of it are often stressed, a frequent factor in relapse and also a reason people start overeating. Addicts often have poly-substance disorders, meaning that other disorders are often already present or can easily develop. As expected, many struggling with substance abuse disorder are also living with depression and anxiety without getting any relief from treatment, paving more room for a food addiction to develop.
This is not to say that seeking substance abuse treatment through a drug detox program leads to overeating and food addictions. People with former addictions have trained their brains to be more susceptible to all kinds of addiction development and food frequently becomes their next vice. Of course, this happens after an addict has ceased the drug or alcohol use, which is the primary goal of the drug detox program.
Entering a professional drug or alcohol detox program with certified staff is a huge step forward and has been highly beneficial for many people looking to turn their lives around. It won’t be easy and painless but for those committed to recovery, it can change your life.