Can Food and Starvation Be Addictions Like Substances?

Addiction is a long-term compulsive desire to seek the reward-triggering effects of certain things, like an activity or a substance. Based on this definition, almost anything that brings pleasure, subjective or objective, has the potential to be addictive. With that in mind, it makes sense why many people can become addicted to food or starving themselves.

A person’s eating habits play a powerful role in addictions. For one thing, of the 20 million people with eating disorders, over half also experience drug-abusing behaviors. People who tend to limit their intake are more likely to be addicted to drugs like cocaine, the effects of which are stronger with starvation. In that way, starvation goes hand-in-hand with addiction since it increases the dopamine rush.

Food addiction vs. Starvation addiction

Food addiction is the repetitive, uncontrollable urge to indulge in certain types of food outside of normal, human need, or even craving. Usually, it comes about in response to negative emotions that trigger a desire to soothe them by intaking food with addictive qualities (high in sugar, carbs, or fat). Food addiction can be an aspect of an eating disorder, like binge eating disorder, but not necessarily.

Addiction to starvation is less common on its own. More often, starvation addiction comes up in the context of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia may experience an almost addictive compulsion to starve themselves due to the associated positive implications of having control over their hunger signals.

Food and Starvation vs. Addictions: Are They Similar?

Both food addiction and starvation have features that imitate how addictions work. With food addiction, the food tends to be high-sugar, unhealthy food. Since sugar can take on an addictive quality, a person can crave certain foods to the point of feeling negative symptoms in their absence.

Certain environments associated with partaking in excessive food consumption may become triggers for engaging in behaviors, just like addictive conditioning. Over time, people /with food addiction may need a bigger “hit,” since their body gets used to the dopamine rush following food consumption. They’ll need more food of a certain level of fat or sugar or variety to experience the same pleasure.

Starvation can also be extremely addictive, especially in the case of restrictive eating disorders. In this case, however, it’s peculiar because the reason for the addiction is not something pleasurable, but the lack of a necessary human need. Therefore, it’s more accurate to say that self-starvation is only addictive, despite its unpleasantness, because it is associated with the emotional reward of controlling one’s body and losing weight.

With both food and starvation, a person can be obsessive with either the prospect of eating or restricting. In this way, it’s much like the preoccupation one can have when anticipating their next drug hit. Furthermore, both behaviors serve as coping mechanisms for anxiety, and people can chase the relief that temporarily comes with engaging in them, just like with substances.

Differences between Food or Starvation & Substance Addictions

There are a few key differences between them.

  • Physiological vs. Psychological Addiction
  • Motivating factors are more complex
  • Cultural factors

Addiction to substances has more obvious motivations than that of food or starvation. Drugs elicit a certain effect on the brain and body, producing powerful, intoxicating neurotransmitters. Food and starvation, however, are more psychologically addictive due to the subjective significance they may hold for someone.

For example, starvation isn’t supposed to cause a dopamine rush. However, when a person associates restriction with personal rewards like weight loss and stress relief, it can result in abnormal, complex motivations to continue engaging in the harmful act.

What’s clear is that society does not view substance abuse the same way it does food or starvation addiction. While people generally disapprove of substance addictions, food addiction can seem more normalized, and people who self-starve may be rewarded if its results in lower body weight.

Regardless, being aware of the potential addictive qualities of these behaviors is valuable for anyone recovering from substance abuse. All uncontrollable addictive behaviors are difficult, and some people may experience food and starvation addictions alongside their substance addiction. When trying to leave a substance, people may be at risk of replacing their substance with another behavior.

Addiction is never easy, but seeking guidance as early as possible can help you take your life back. Contact us at 833-364-0736 to learn how we can support your journey.