On the nature of addiction

June 12, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Conditions, Ethics, Media, Opinions | 2 Comments

This is going to be a complex post in which I will make a certain very uncomfortable admission that I’ve never made in public before. For that reason it might ramble slightly. Bear with me.

First of all, news today that the European Court will rule on whether obesity is a disability. I have some thoughts about that.

Obesity isn’t a disability. People become disabled because they are obese. Disability is the symptom, not the cause.

Take that one step further though: Obesity is also a symptom. It’s a symptom of addiction; addiction to over-eating, and specifically to sugar.

See, this is why we have angry fat acceptance activists like “This Is Thin Privilege” (I’m not providing a link, because they’re honestly borderline psychotic and I don’t need the aggro) and the like; pointing out to an obese person that their obesity is a problem is exactly the same as pointing out to a junkie or an alcoholic or a gambling addict that they have a problem – Until they’re ready to accept it, all you’re going to get in return is anger and denial. And some of them will never be ready to accept it.

Obese people aren’t disabled, they’re addicts.

And here’s where it gets really messy:

If a patient comes in to my care having seizures from alcohol withdrawal, maybe with a case of hepatic encephalopathy, then we can dry that patient out. We can give them benzos to control their seizures and withdrawal, we can give them IV Pabrinex to save their liver, we can get that person back on their feet, and we can say with complete honesty: “You cannot drink alcohol ever again, or it will kill you”.

How do we say that to a food addict? “You can’t eat ever again or you’ll… Oh… Wait… Never mind”.

See, abstinence is EASY. Alcoholic? Don’t drink. Heroin addict? Don’t take heroin? Smoker? Don’t fucking smoke.

It’s a piece of cake. Honestly.

Know what’s hard? Moderation. Tell somebody with an addiction that they can have just a little bit of what they’re addicted to? They’re ADDICTED to it. One drink will become twelve really quickly. That’s what recovering food addicts have to deal with: They can’t just avoid their addiction entirely. They have no choice but to have a little bit of their poison, at least three times per day, ever single day.

Quitting booze and cigarettes is easy. Getting slim is a bastard.

And I know this for several reasons. Firstly, I smoked (heavily) for thirteen years and quit without incident the first time I seriously attempted to. Secondly, I am a recovering fatty. My BMI is 32, and it’s not because I don’t exercise, it’s because I eat too damned much sugary, high calorie food. I’m doing my best to moderate it, but it’s bloody hard. Thirdly, and this is where I make an uncomfortable admission, I have an alcohol problem. If I’m drinking, then brother I am DRINKING. I am addicted to alcohol. I am an alcoholic. I’ve never said that before. Feels weird. But good.

But I can cope with my alcohol addiction. Really, it’s not difficult at all. I either drink nothing whatsoever (the default state of being for the last few months), or if I drink at home I buy four 330ml bottles of beer and no more (never any spirits, and oh my God do I miss single-malt Scotch whisky). When I’m out and exposed to unlimited booze, any of my friends will tell you: I drink. I really, really drink. Which is why I don’t go out very often.

The problem is, none of these strategies work for food addicts. You cannot abstain from food entirely. Neither can you have a house in which there is no food (not and maintain a marriage anyway). I guess the challenge for the 21st century is to find a way to break the addiction. Methadone for sugar.

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  1. I miss single malt whisky too. And proper martinis. And… Even asking friends to make sure you don’t drink, or at best take only one glass, doesn’t work. You have to force yourself even when all you want is a drink. At least you know what you’re doing.

    Food is another problem entirely. You’ re in a hurry and don’t have time to get anything more than a sandwich. You’re ill or disabled and capable of preparing balanced meals for yourself all the time. If you go to a restaurant with friends, it’s usually rich, fattening food in excessive quantities. If you go to dinner at a friend’s they’ll always go over the top on quantities.

    It’s getting to the point where, if you want to stay or get healthy, you can never go out. Not very good for maintaining friendships.

  2. I have been obese all my life. I started off ‘big’ as a child and gradually got bigger and bigger. I’d diet and lose weight then it would all go back on again. Last year, I was suffering from stress and I noticed, the more stressed I got the bigger I got. Finally after addressing the things that were stressing me I took a long hard look at my weight and discovered I was using it as a way of having some ‘control’ I wouldn’t say I was addicted to sugar as I have never been a big chocolate or sugar in my tea person, but I loved the way I felt when I could take my family out for a meal and stuff my face. Luckily I have always been active so it hasn’t turned into a disability (Yet) I attend slimming world and have learnt I can still eat loads of healthy food and still make it taste good. I have had to be honest with myself. I am losing weight, I know my downfall could be keeping it off. I have also recognised I was addicted, not to the sugar, but the way eating made me felt about myself. Its a struggle somedays but I am motivated and really hope I stay that way


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