Cravings and Addictions
A message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) member asked me to blog about cravings, compulsions, and addictions. Here’s my take. Over recent decades, scientific research has concluded that brain chemistry dictates far more of our behavior than we had previously thought. Alternately, it also stresses that we still retain free will and, fortunately, that changing behavior can modify brain chemistry.
When you hear the seductive voice of leftover birthday cake calling to you from the refrigerator two rooms away, can’t stop obsessing about a watch you found on E-bay that you don’t need and in no way can afford, or feel the repeated stab of yearning for your old flame who was bad through and through, what’s going on? When you crave a food, biology is often at work—your body is triggered by low blood sugar or surging hormones or has a neurotransmitter imbalance and you seek food to alter your mood.
What of that gotta-have-it watch or make-you-dizzy desire for your former beau? These cravings or addictive-feeling behaviors may also be driven by psychological need. Call it a buzz or a rush or just plain excitement, but most of us have experienced it. If you pay attention, the craving often has a biological feel to it, that is, you don’t notice desire only in your thoughts, but your whole body vibrates with it—you tingle, you tremble, your heart pounds, a fiery wind breathes through you, and you pulse with electricity.
The most difficult part of such cravings is believing that if you don’t reach/have/consume the object of this overwhelming body/mind urge, you won’t be able to go on living. This desperation makes you feel as if you will die on the spot if you don’t eat that piece of cake, buy that watch, or call up your old flame. The yearning is so pervasive and insistent that it blots out clear thinking, sound judgment, good advice, reality.
I don’t know if there’s a biological underpinning to these kinds of powerful cravings, but I can tell you that you must see them for what they are—dangerous. When a desire is so intense and compelling that it feels as if you have no control over it and are not making a choice but are being pulled recklessly toward something unholy, when you feel your brain bursting with feel-good chemicals at the mere thought of the object of your desire, you need to tell yourself that you may be heading for a slippery slope. Such intensity is neither love nor healthy desire, but a type of yearning that may be a stand in for something else or, perhaps, purely chemistry gone awry. The more you fight it, and fight it you must, the weaker the craving will become and the stronger you will grow.