Could You Have The Addiction Gene?

February 24, 2011

addictionA new study linking a family history of alcoholism and obesity raises the question: Are addictions to alcohol and food connected?

The study by Washington University in St. Louis researchers looked at addiction and obesity trends from a national survey conducted in 1991 and 1992 and in 2001 and 2002, and found that women with a family history of alcoholism were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without a family history of alcoholism. Men with a family history of alcoholism were also more likely to be obese, to a lesser degree.

The researchers speculate that rather than binging on alcohol, which carries a higher social stigma, people with a tendency toward addiction may be binging on the many high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar foods available today instead.

Both alcohol and these so called junk foods stimulate a similar place in the brain known as the reward center, they say. Addictions to other things like sex, gambling, or even exercise also stem from this same reward center in the hypothalamus. New studies suggesting the same drugs used to treat an addiction to tobacco, alcohol, and drug addiction may also help reduce the cravings and binge eating behaviors further back up this possible connection.

I am not surprised at the study results and have long suspected there was a link between an addictive personality and obesity for some of my patients. For example, one man in his early 30s who recently started the program revealed during the course of our initial interviews that he had a pattern of binge drinking in the past, which he had given up when his children were born.

However, upon talking further, he revealed that his binge eating pattern emerged around the same time, and was surprised himself to connect the dots that what he had done was substitute an addiction for food for his prior addiction to alcohol.

In fact, substituting a healthy addiction, like to exercise or spirituality, for an unhealthy one is a common way to break addiction.

Many people who struggle with addiction report that their compulsive behaviors, like binge drinking or binge eating, often stem from an attempt to soothe stress or to cope with negative emotions. Overeating or drinking too much brings a temporary comfort or pleasure as it taps into the reward center in the brain. However, in the long term the compulsive behavior leads to other problems such as weight gain or difficulty in personal and work relationships.

If you suspect an addictive personality may be playing a role in your weight issues, there is hope. But to win your battle with the bulge it will need to be addressed with a program tailored to meet your individual needs, like the one offered by The Center for Medical Weight Loss. Without addressing these issues, calorie cutting and added exercise alone will likely not get to the core of the issue.

The good news is, once my patients start connecting these dots, I have seen time and time again that it all falls into place and they are finally able to overcome their weight issues for good.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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