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Gimme more: Breaking down the causes of addiction

An addiction can take any form. Whether it’s the high from winning abid on eBay, doing a line of cocaine or eating a bag of Doritos,addiction is an illness with huge social, mental and physical implications.<strong> </strong>

Robert Palmer wasn’t far from the truth when he belted out the lyrics to his song, “might as well face it you’re addicted to love” in 1986.


An addiction can take any form. Whether it’s the high from winning a bid on eBay, doing a line of cocaine or eating a bag of Doritos, addiction is an illness with huge social, mental and physical implications.


Adding up addiction


London based psychotherapist Marisa Peer defines addiction as “anything that moves the brain away from a bad or negative feeling, to a good one.”


We’re not just dealing with substances, but anything that affects the pleasure centres of the brain. Activities such as gambling, shoplifting or online shopping are common addictions.


Peer believes that there is no one theory to explain why one person will be more predisposed to developing an addictive behaviour than another. Metro speaks to addiction experts to find out why some of us just can’t seem to get enough.


Substance over substance


Paul J Kenny, Associate Professor of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, found that compulsive eating shared the same addictive biochemical mechanism as drug abuse.


For the study he separated a group of rats into three categories, group one had no access to junk food, group two had limited access (one hour a day) and group three unlimited access to anything fatty and high in sugar or salt such as bacon, icing or cake.


“Unlimited and extended access to junk food causes a shift in brain activity, leading to compulsive eating habits,” explains Kenny. The brain is designed to register pleasure, triggered by both drugs and junk food.


The lesser of two evils


Similarly, Peer observes that refined white sugar and caffeine have the same effect on the pleasure centres of the brain as opium and nicotine.


“Sugar, caffeine and dairy are highly addictive,” she says.


The thing all these foods have in common is that they have all been chemically refined.

Let's get physical


The unsavoury subject of sex is something most addicts are ashamed to speak about, making it that much harder for them to reach out for help.


Dr Drew Pinsky is an expert in sex addiction, having appeared on TV shows such as Celebrity Rehab and Oprah.


Recent sex scandals involving celebs have led us to wonder, ‘how does one become addicted to sex?’


Pinsky believes emotional or physical abuse as children is something many sex addicts have in common.


‘It’s the high’


One of Peer’s clients is addicted to shoplifting even though, ironically, she is extremely wealthy.


“Money isn’t the issue, it’s the high that comes with it and the adrenaline rush she gets from getting out of the store without being caught, these people are often hoarders, storing piles and piles of things in their homes,” explains Peer.


“You could put this need to consume down to a feeling of emptiness, a void people need to fill but the same goes for winning a gambling bet or a bid on eBay.”

 
 
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