Why One Addiction Can Be Replaced By Another

By Victoria Kim 12/11/15

Trading one addiction for another is more deeply rooted than just a need for reward.

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Can one addiction be replaced by another? It sure can. But it’s not just about chasing a dopamine high. It’s also about suffering.

“Addiction is a psychological symptom, a compulsive drive to repeat doing something because it has some emotional purpose,” Dr. Lance Dodes, a psychiatrist and addiction expert told Men’s Health.

That could explain why patients who undergo weight-loss surgery tend to drink more after the procedure. A 2013 study in JAMA Surgery found that by 24 months after the operation, the average patient drinks 66% more often than they did before the surgery. The study found this trend was more pronounced in one type of surgery, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, in which the stomach is reduced to the size of an egg.

The simple explanation is this. Brain-imaging studies have shown that food and alcohol stimulate the same parts of the brain, according to Men’s Health. And some research shows that obese people have a lower risk for substance abuse. Thus, for someone who is post-op and can no longer eat as much as they used to, alcohol is an easy, socially acceptable replacement for food.

The not so simple explanation is that people do not trade one addiction for another purely for the reward. It is rooted in something deeper. “If addiction were about seeking rewards, people wouldn’t be suffering with it,” said Dr. Dodes.

In the case of people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, perhaps the issues that caused them to gain weight in the past did not resolve themselves even after weight-loss surgery. This could explain why they drink more even after shedding the weight.

What all addictions have in common is that they are indirect, said Dr. Dodes. The addictive behavior is a reaction to a problem that does not directly address the problem.

Getting loaded on alcohol or drugs offers temporary relief for a deeper issue, which leaves individuals feeling powerless, frustrated, or disappointed in oneself or others. “It only makes sense if you understand the motivation behind it,” said Dr. Dodes. “All addictions are a need to reverse this feeling of helplessness.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr