Addiction and recovery are a multi-faceted, very complicated conversation that is not had enough in this country. You’ve probably heard plenty about the opioid epidemic currently striking the United States of America, but addiction is a much more complicated problem than what we are seeing today. I should know, because I am someone who suffered from alcohol dependency and (I now believe) an addiction to food. Although I am happily in recovery from alcoholism and now know how to socialize without drinking, I still sometimes struggle with food issues. And it turns out I am not alone.
A recent story in The Washington Post asked the all-important question: Are women increasingly at risk of addiction? Studies seem to indicate that the gender gap between men and women who drink seems to be decreasing, as with an Australian study that indicated that men and women born in the latter half of the 20th century now are relatively close in numbers to how often they may have an alcohol problem or data from the National Survey on Frug Use and Health that indicated the ” U.S. gender gap in drinking had narrowed from 2002 to 2012.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to food, the same article cited a Canadian study which showed that twice as many women as men met the criteria on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. A U.S. study found that ““gender was significantly associated with addictive-like eating symptoms with women, on average, reporting a higher number of symptoms” than men. So if more women are drinking than ever before and more women are susceptible to food addiction, is there anything we can do about it? And more importantly, how do we recognize if we have a problem before it becomes catastrophic?
For me, there was no right answer. As with many addicts, I knew for a while that I had a “problem” and did nothing to solve it. Well, let me clear that up: I tried to simply quit drinking on my own. I tried various diets and to calm the anxiety in my head that caused me to eat more, to drink more. It didn’t work. I had to lose my job and put my life at risk before I recognized that this was not a problem I could solve on my own. It was only then that I could seek the help I needed, talking with my parents and eventually going to rehab.
But for those that are wondering if their drinking, drug use, or eating is problematic, there is a simpler way to tell if you have an addiction. According to Psychology Today, the six things you should watch out for are this: 1. Is this this very important to your way of life and your sense of self? 2. Does doing it make you feel better and not doing it make you feel worse? 3. Do you find yourself doing it more and more times than when you originally started? 4. Do you have feelings of anxiety whenever you think about stopping doing this thing? 5. Has doing this thing disrupted your life or your relationships with friends and family? 6. Do you often want to stop doing this thing but find that you keep going back to it again and again?
When it comes to alcohol, some of these questions may be easier to answer — at least they were for me, since by the time I realized I was an alcoholic, I had very obviously been using alcohol to calm my frustrations, anxiety and stress at my job. But food addiction may be more difficult to categorize, since we all need food to life, right? So how can you tell if you’re doing it more or disrupting your relationships with food?
Well, according to Healthline, food addiction is often related to junk food and symptoms include craving certain foods despite having just finished a nutritious meal, feeling guilty after eating a particular food but giving in regardless, unsuccessfully trying to set rules or quit eating certain foods, hiding your consumption of unhealthy food from others, and being unable to control your consumption (even though you know they are causing you physical harm, such as weight gain, stomach pains, or lethargy).
One of the biggest issues with food addiction versus other types of addiction (including alcohol) is that you can’t really cut food out of your life in order to recover from your disease. I learned the hard way how easy it can be to relapse with just one sip of alcohol, but with food? Well, that may take some getting used to. Your best bet might focus on avoiding “trigger foods,” since abstinence is often the only way to fight your addictions. That doesn’t mean stop eating altogether, since that’s impossible, but instead avoid chocolate chip cookies if you know that one cookie leads to eating the entire dozen you made to bring over to your friend’s party… Oops.
With any addiction, however, the most important part is recognizing that you have a problem and seeking help. There are many ways to go about this, but starting by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Hotline is a good idea. Another thing to try is finding a support group meeting in your area (whether you go with a 12-step program or an alternative, such as SMART Recovery). Oh, and did I mention how awesome it is to go to therapy? Talking with my therapist on a weekly basis (at first) has been crucial to my recovery.
But most of all, talk to your friends and family. Although mental health and addiction issues are still a taboo subject in many Latino households, I can tell you from personal experience that nothing works as well as having the support of your loved ones — even if that support comes with the help of taking medication for your mental health. Being able to lean on my parents during the worst of my alcohol problems and now on my partner as he supports me wholeheartedly in my recovery has been invaluable, as have been the countless of friends who continue to offer their love.
Addiction, whether to food or alcohol or anything else, is not easy. But you never, ever have to do it alone. The sooner you recognize your issues and seek help, the sooner you can be in a better, happier place.