DebraSY

Word Play: Addiction v. Compulsion

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on April 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I thought my most recent post would be a “quickie.”  Here’s something interesting in Science Daily on food addiction linking ghrelin to excessive sugar consumption.  I expected a few responses.  “That’s nice, and resonates with me because blah blah.”  Or, “Fine, but that’s not my issue.” 

We all go home. 

What I learned instead is that the word “addiction” is not even recognized in certain professional circles (those who treat substance abuse, e.g.) and that many find the word “compulsion” less judgmental and more useful in treating people who engage in excessive behaviors. 

For some reason, in our discussion, we were compelled to raise the topic of “sex addiction,” and I, for grins, visited this site analyzing the Tiger Woods debacle:  Sex Addiction:  What Tiger Woods’ Story Forces us to Confront.  

Here are the first two paragraphs:

From Tiger Woods to Lifetime movies, there has been no small amount of conjecture about the slippery concept known as ‘sex addiction.”  But does such a condition really exist?  Finding out requires sweeping aside the presumption, dismissiveness, and shame that clouds the subject.

The phenomenon didn’t have a name until 1983 when psychologist Patrick Carnes published the influential book, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Prior to that, the behavior was described as “hyper-sexual arousal.” In short, the term “sex addiction” is used to describe a pattern of frequent, progressive, and often secret sexual behavior, even when the behavior jeopardizes a person’s time, employment, financial stability, relationships, and reputation. While often conflated with adultery, sex addiction does not necessarily mean cheating—or even intercourse. Rather, it can manifest as a dependency on pornography, masturbation, phone or Internet sex, and other related behavior.

Now, that opening reads sensibly enough to these eyes, trained by our “developed” culture to accept certain logical leaps.  However, it was easy to see that we, indeed, may have a problem (practical and/or semantic) when we “translate” it to a comparable analysis of the less understood/accepted concept of “food addiction.”

From Orson Welles to Lifetime movies, there has been no small amount of conjecture about the slippery concept known as ‘food addiction.”  But does such a condition really exist?  Finding out requires sweeping aside the presumption, dismissiveness, and shame that clouds the subject.

The phenomenon didn’t have a name until 1983 when psychologist I. B. Full published the influential book, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Food Addiction. Prior to that, the behavior was described as “overeating.”  In short, the term “food addiction” is used to describe a pattern of frequent, progressive, and often secret eating behavior, even when the behavior makes the person fat and jeopardizes his or her time, employment, financial stability, relationships, and reputation. While often conflated with bingeing, food addiction does not necessarily mean eating outside meals — or even swallowing the food. Rather, it can manifest as a dependency on cookbooks, chewing gum, TV or Internet cooking programs, and other related behavior.

Maybe my translation isn’t exact (but I found it an amusing exercise) and I’m not 100 percent sure what to make of it.  I encourage you to read the whole article, and especially the first commenter, Zencat, who is the soul sister of our own bright commenter, Shaunta.   

Here are a few things I know: 

  • People’s brain chemistries differ greatly. 
  • Brain chemistries compel a range of behaviors.  (Some people call extreme, life impeding, behaviors compulsions. Some may call them addictions.) 
  • Some people find the language of “addiction” useful.  They seek out 12-step programs or other “addiction” interventions. 
  • Other people find “addiction” language troubling, shaming, or they may even use it pejoratively.  This is likely because addicts, in news and advertising, are generally portrayed as hollow-eyed, broken-toothed losers.   
  • Compulsion conveys less shame and does have more integrity.  Maybe we can thank the TV character with OCD, Monk, for that. 
  • I am fighting my brain chemistry, which wants me to eat the way I did at more than 200 pounds.  I would like to change my brain chemistry to match my current eating, which creates a body I prefer to my natural one.  Whether my challenge is one of compulsion or addiction (or disorder), I manage my brain chemistry in a socially acceptable way, but I stinking hate the battle.   

Out of selfishness, if the language of addiction leads to better understanding of brain chemistry related to food (and practical discoveries), then I’ll put up with the negative connotations, and even try to reverse them.  One thing for sure, I will never look at this issue the same again.  It’s no “quickie” to solve or even discuss.

Advertisements
  1. I think that “addiction” leads to “addict,” which is an identity. A negative one. The language says “you are defined by this behavior.” It pushes other aspects of identity aside.

    “Compulsion” is more neutral. Nobody talks about being “a compulsive.” It’s just something that someone might do every so often and not feel in control of. The language doesn’t imply that it’s central to their identity and therefore, it seems less judgmental.

    I think that building your identity out of a bad habit is problematic. It gives it too much power. You’re either defining yourself negatively or in opposition to something that ideally wouldn’t be a major issue.

  2. I. B. Full

    LOL!!!

  3. In Overeaters Anonymous (OA), the 12-step equivalent to AA, members self identify as “Compulsive Overeaters”. As in, “Hi, my name is Babs, and I’m a compulsive overeater.” Compulsive overeating is, therefore, accepted by members as “a physical, emotional, and spiritual disease.”

    Spiritual. Really? Sigh. The disease model needs work. Unless we’re gonna provide treatment for a diseased society.

  4. “Diseased society”. Love it. Sigh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: