Opioid Addiction

Opioid Addiction

The Opioid Crisis in Canada

Canada is facing a national opioid crisis. According to the Government of Canada, the growing number of overdoses and deaths caused by opioid drugs like fentanyl is now considered a public health emergency. The numbers* in Canada show that:

  • The national opioid crisis continues to grow.
  • 94% of opioid overdose deaths happen by accident.
  • Young Canadians aged 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.

The September 2019 National Report sadly shows that the current crisis is not going anywhere. Approximately 12,800 lives have been lost since 2016, at an average of one person every two hours in 2018. Many, many other people are hospitalized each year because of opioid overdoses.

Opioid addiction is powerful and dangerous, but real recovery is possible. As an accredited national leader in treating alcohol, drug, and food addictions for nearly 50 years, Renascent offers specialized intensive inpatient and outpatient programs for opioid addiction. We’ve helped almost 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the difference between prescription and illegal opioid drugs, the risk of opioid addiction, the signs and symptoms of problem use, opioid addiction treatment options in Canada, and how you can achieve lifelong healing and recovery from addiction to these powerful drugs.

Your journey to recovery from opioid addiction starts here.

*Source: Canada’s Opioid Crisis fact sheet

What are Opioid Drugs?

Opioid drugs, or opiates, are medications that relieve pain. When prescribed by a doctor and used properly, opioids can help people. But misuse and overuse of these powerful drugs can cause addiction, overdose, and death.

Some opioids like morphine and codeine are found naturally in opium poppies, while others are semi-synthetic (e.g., hydromorphone or hydrocodone), which means they are made by changing the chemical structure of a naturally occurring opioid. Synthetic opioids include methadone and meperidine, and are made entirely from chemicals in a lab without any naturally occurring opioid ingredients.

Opioids can be prescribed and used as tablets, capsules, syrups, solutions, or suppositories. Some people also inject opioids with needles or inhale opioids as a spray.

Types of medical opioid drugs that can be prescribed by a doctor for pain, or to sometimes treat coughs and diarrhea, but that can also be additive include:

Illegal opioid drugs, like fentanyl and heroin, are made in illegal labs or stolen and sold illegally on the street. Using opioids without a prescription from a doctor, or by getting a prescription for an opioid from more than one doctor, is also illegal.

Carfentanil — A Hidden and Dangerous Opiate

One of the most dangerous opioids right now is carfentanil, a synthetic drug very similar to fentanyl.

Carfentanil is an opioid that is used by veterinarians for very large animals like elephants. It is NOT made for human use. It is approximately 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. This means carfentanil can be deadly even in extremely small amounts.

Carfentanil is being found in other illegal drugs like heroin and counterfeit pills and being made to look like prescription opioids. There is no easy way to know if carfentanil is in your drugs: you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it.

Its side effects are more dangerous than with other opiates: users are experiencing serious overdoses, and even brain death that requires them to live out the rest of their lives in nursing homes. Carfentanil is also currently the leading cause of opiate-related death.

Naloxone has been used to reverse carfentanil overdoses; however, greater than normal doses are required to revive those who have overdosed. If you are using illegal opioids, be aware of how to spot an overdose and how to help someone who is overdosing.

The Effects of Opioids on Your Body

Because opioids are a group of drugs that have morphine-like effects, they produce euphoria, or a mellow, relaxed “high”. At low doses as prescribed by a doctor, they can suppress the sensation of pain in your body and your emotional response to pain. But this is also what makes opioids highly addictive and dangerous.

Misusing and overusing opiate drugs can change your brain and body in ways that can make it hard to stop using. As your body gets used to a regular supply of the drug, you can experience withdrawal when you stop using them, or when you use less.

Also, when people take too much of an opioid, it slows down their breathing, often leading to unconsciousness and even death from overdose.

Opioid Side Effects

In their fact sheets on the opioid crisis, the Government of Canada outlines the many short- and long-term effects of taking both prescribed and illegal opioids.

In the short-term, using opioids can cause:

  • Drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, and confusion
  • Constipation
  • Impotence in men
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing

With long-term use, opioids can cause:

  • Increased tolerance
  • Liver damage
  • Infertility in women
  • Worsening pain or “opioid-induced hyperalgesia”
  • Life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in babies born to mothers taking opioids

Physical dependence, addiction, overdose, and death are also linked to using both prescribed and illegal opioids.

If you need help or someone to talk to about a possible addiction to an opioid drug, call Renascent for help. We can help you, your family, or friends deal with opioid dependence and addiction.

The Problem with Prescription Opiates

The opioid crisis in Canada means more and more people every year are misusing opioids, overdosing, and in far too many cases, dying from overdose. This includes people from every age group – from teens to older adults – and in every socioeconomic group. Canadians young and old, poor and rich, are being exposed to opioids and suffering from the effects of these powerful, dangerous drugs.

To combat this growing problem, the government has made problem opioid use illegal. This means that using opioids without a prescription from a doctor, or by getting a prescription for an opioid from more than one doctor, is illegal, just like selling or buying opioids on the street. Giving your prescription opioids to someone else, even for free, is also illegal.

It also means that healthcare professionals like doctors, dentists, and pharmacists are much more careful about prescribing opioid medicines to treat pain. You should feel comfortable talking to your doctor or dentist before taking any opioid medicine prescribed to you so that you understand the risks. And you can ask about other pain management options you might be able to use instead.

Spotlight on Tramadol, the “safe” opioid

Tramadol is a type of opiate prescribed by doctors to help their patients relieve moderate to moderately severe pain. It works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.

The problem with Tramadol and other slow-release or long-acting analgesic (pain-relieving) opioids is that they are commonly touted as being a safer alternative to prescription narcotics. But, Tramadol is a narcotic opiate, and one that can be addictive with prolonged use.

If you’ve been prescribed Tramadol, don’t take any more of it, or more often, than you have been prescribed. If you think you might have a problem using Tramadol, talk to your doctor or call Renascent for a free consultation.

Signs of Opioid Addiction

It can be hard to admit you have a problem with drug use, especially one that has been prescribed to you by a doctor. It can be even harder to ask for help.

But recognizing the signs that your drug use is causing problems in your life at work or at home is the essential first step to accepting help and your successful recovery. This is why honesty is the first principle of every 12-step recovery plan.

You can begin by asking yourself if you are:

  • Craving opioid drugs.
  • Using opioids even when you experience harmful effects.
  • Feeling like getting and using opioids has become the focus of your thoughts and daily life.
  • Having withdrawal symptoms such as:
    • Chills or sweating;
    • Diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain;
    • Trouble sleeping;
    • Body aches;
    • Nervousness, irritability, and agitation.

These are all possible signs and symptoms of a drug addiction to opioids. At Renascent, we understand addiction and we can help.

And if you or someone you know is using opioids, there are also signs and symptoms of overdose you need to know about to stay safe.

Have you witnessed an overdose? Canada’s Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act can legally protect you when seeking emergency help in an overdose situation.

Am I an Addict?

Yes, you might be addicted to opioids, but it’s important to not let this label stop you from getting help to quit. Addicts are always people first, just like anyone else. And you can get the treatment you need to recover fully from your addiction.

It might help you to keep in mind that addiction is considered a chronic disorder by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5), a handbook used widely by doctors to guide diagnosis of mental disorders and addictions.

This means that if you’re experiencing problems as a result of opioid use, it doesn’t make you a bad person, or any other label out there – it means you have a psychiatric brain disorder or disease that can be treated like any other health condition. And in Ontario, addiction is recognized as a disability in the Human Rights Code, so you are protected against discrimination based on your addiction from anyone you need to tell at work or elsewhere in your life.

People with addictions can and do experience recovery that lasts a lifetime. At Renascent, all our counsellors have lived experiences of addiction and long-term recovery, so you’ll have the understanding and support you need to ask for help, and at every step of your diagnosis, intake, and treatment.

Opioid Addiction Treatment – How to Quit Opioids

Quitting opioids and finding lifelong freedom from these powerful drugs is hard work, but recovery is possible.

An accredited, personalized, and abstinence-based treatment is recommended for most opioid addictions. At Renascent, we have found in our 50 years of experience, that this model means that even those with the most serious of drug addictions can find renewed health and healing, and a truly transformative experience.

For example, our comprehensive, Toronto-region, opioid addiction treatment programs take place in safe, serene, and caring environments inside beautifully restored heritage homes. Our abstinence-based model integrates 12-step facilitation with other best practices in clinical and medical approaches, which are proven to make a difference in long-term sobriety. Included in every treatment stay at Renascent:

  • Education on your addiction and its physical, emotional, social, and spiritual effects
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy to understand and change your addiction behaviour patterns
  • 12-step facilitation
  • Personalized one-on-one and solution-focused therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Exercise, sleep, and healthy eating

Also, many people with an addiction to opioids will benefit from an inpatient treatment program. These types of intensive, residential treatment programs are like a kick-start to your recovery. A quality program in a home-like residence that is grounded in evidence and a client- and family-centred approach will be like a reset button for your healing and success.

Inpatient programs also have around-the-clock counselling and support, and education in practical recovery and life skills that will make long-term recovery more successful. Plus, a good inpatient treatment program gives you the time and tools you need to get to the underlying issues of your addiction and empower you to manage your addiction.

How to choose your addiction treatment program

It can be hard to decide what type of treatment program you need. There are a lot of options out there, and each person has different needs and resources for addiction treatment.

Our treatment option chart outlines some of the choices you have at Renascent, or through other healthcare providers. Don’t see what you need? Contact us anytime for a confidential assessment where we can match you with the support you’re looking for.

If You Are:We Might Suggest:
Looking for one-on-one supportA one-on-one counselling session with one of our addiction experts
Seeking a community who understandsInpatient treatment with group counselling, or AA/NA/CA/OA meetings
Struggling with relapse42-days of Inpatient Treatment, followed by active participation in our Continuing Care program.
In recovery, but looking to connect with informal supportGetting involved with Renascent’s Alumni Care community. There are regular meetings, engaged committees, and events for everyone. We’re here for life!
Concerned how addiction in your family might be impacting your childrenSafe programs geared for kids and parents/caregivers, such as Children’s Healthy Coping Skills
Worried about your family member or loved one, including siblings, close friends, and partnersOur Essential Family Care Programs, particularly the Introduction to Family Care
A parent in active recoveryA weekend course like Parenting in Recovery, to help you boost your parenting skills
Concerned addiction is affecting your work or workplaceOur Corporate Complete Care Advantage, designed to support employees and employers as they navigate addiction and recovery in the workplace.
Worried about life after treatmentOur Continuing Care Program, to support you as you re-integrate into your daily home life.
Looking for housing after treatmentOne of our many Community Partners who offer post-treatment housing. Call us at 1-866-232-1212 and we can put you in touch.
Looking to get “clean” or detox.The ConnexOntario Helpline, 1-866-531-2600, can connect you with Withdrawal Management Services. If you are interested in treatment following detox, call 1-866-232-1212 and we’ll coordinate this.

Don’t see what you need? Contact us anytime for a confidential assessment where we can match you with the support you’re looking for.

Freedom and Recovery from Opioid Addiction

Staying connected and finding healthy support systems for your new, sober life are key to lifelong freedom and recovery from addiction.

Finding an after-treatment care program, like the Continuing Care and Alumni programs offered at Renascent, extends your counselling support, peer support, and education following your primary intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment period. The goal of a program like Continuing Care is to support you to maintain your abstinence, and help you re-establish it if you struggle with relapse.

For example, our Continuing Care program is available to clients as an in-class format or over the phone, while our Alumni program goes an additional step by providing healthy, safe, and strong social community foundations for long-term recovery to thrive. From group meetings to social events and volunteer opportunities, an alumni program can be a vital part of your personal growth and long-term recovery.

Other peer support programs in the recovery community, like a 12-step meeting through Heroin Anonymous or other group for opioid addictions, are also built on drawing your power to stay sober from people who have walked the same journey as you.

Often, these kinds of peer-support and after-treatment care programs offer just the type of friendship you need with positive ways to celebrate and value your sobriety – key ways to stay connected to your support systems and your reasons for quitting opioids once and for all.

For Healthcare Professionals – Refer a Patient

If you’re a healthcare professional, you’re in the unique position of being able to help your patients and their families reclaim their lives from addiction. Renascent is pleased to partner with physicians and other healthcare professionals to facilitate your patient’s treatment and ongoing recovery.

Our accredited, abstinence-based treatment model results in treatment outcomes that are among the best in Canada. Referring your patients to Renascent is a decision you can trust.

Your Road to Recovery Starts Here

Your addiction recovery journey begins with “I need help.” We’ve helped almost 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

For a free and confidential consultation with one of our counsellors, call 1-866-232-1212 anytime, day or night, or Contact Us Today.

Food Addiction

Food Addiction

Real Talk on Food Addiction & Recovery

It was an adjustment at first but I soon found myself really benefiting from their program of healthy, prepared meals, classes, meetings and counselling sessions. I learned for the first time in my life that I’m not a bad person, but that I have a disease. I learned that I’m not like other people. I learned that when I eat my trigger foods, my mind and body undergo actual physical changes that are chemically induced abnormalities or illnesses. I learned that it is a progressive disease and that it only becomes worse without treatment.

I learned that unless I abstain from these trigger foods, I cannot recover.

Excerpt from Renascent Food Addiction Alumni post, November 2017

Food addiction is real and recovery is possible. Just like with drugs and alcohol, people can experience an addictive effect from eating certain foods, which in turn can lead to food compulsions, serious addictions, and related health conditions. At Renascent, we know food compulsion and addiction are often misunderstood, minimized, and misdiagnosed.

As an accredited national leader in treating addiction for nearly 50 years, we offer Canada’s only intensive inpatient and outpatient programs specifically for food addiction. We’ve helped almost 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

In this article, we’ll help you understand food addiction, the signs and symptoms you should watch out for, how a food addiction can be treated, and the best steps for lifelong healing and recovery.

Your journey to recovery from a food addiction starts here.

What is Food Addiction?

Have you found that dieting isn’t the right approach for you? Are you struggling with your weight, obsessing about eating, or compulsively eating? Do you feel completely out of control?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. It’s estimated that 1 in 20 Canadians, or 5% of our country’s population, have a food addiction. And research shows that more than 40% of people with binge-eating disorders are also addicted to certain foods.

The science behind food addiction tells us that highly palatable or good-tasting foods, like sugar and white flour, can activate an addictive response in certain people. Studies have also found that certain foods like sugar can create the same reaction in our brains as alcohol or drugs like cocaine. And just like a person with an alcohol or drug addiction is only addicted to a specific substance, food addicts are only addicted to specific types of foods.

We’re all tempted at times by good-tasting foods and treats, but if you reach a certain point where your behaviour with food is mimicking other addictions, with no ‘off’ button for your cravings or compulsions, this is a signal you might need help.

Food addiction and compulsive eating are real problems, and major contributing factors to several chronic health conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Like with any other substance-use problem, food addictions need to be taken and treated seriously.

Are you Addicted to Food?

We’re often asked, “How can I tell if I’m addicted to food, or if I just enjoy eating?” and “Are all people who enjoy eating ‘addicts’?” These are very good questions.

Enjoying food is definitely not the same thing as being addicted to food. Our brains are wired to enjoy food — that is a primal survival mechanism. In fact, we enjoy foods that are high fat and high sugar for that very reason — these foods are energy dense and ensure our survival by making us want to eat more for immediate energy and storage purposes. Even the person with a food addiction who is in recovery still enjoys their food.

The Brain & Body Connection to Addiction

What makes the enjoyment addictive is the key question. When the enjoyment has become so large that it dominates other natural pleasures, a problem is flagged. We are either in a deficit and need the excess food (i.e., we’re very hungry) or we are in a disordered pattern of eating. The natural ebbs and flows of pleasure are misaligned. Notice that when you are hungry, the plate of brussels sprouts and glass of water is very enjoyable, but when you are full, you no longer desire them. The desire to eat ebbs when it is no longer necessary to ‘fuel up.’ But when you are not hungry and you still desire to eat, something else is operating that keeps you wanting to continue to eat or to ‘enjoy’ the food.

There are many neurochemical and hormonal reasons for this disorder, and one of them is the neurochemistry of addiction. The person may be rooted into an addiction loop that makes them crave food even when they no longer need it – in fact, even when they are no longer enjoying it. They still want it anyway.

Diagnosing a Food Addiction

The primary way an addiction doctor can determine if a person has a food addiction is by looking at the patient’s eating patterns and food behaviour.

The doctor is looking for a dysfunction in the normal ebb and flow of wanting and not wanting food. We use questions from the DSM IV handbook, which determines addiction. Here are just a few*:

  • Do you crave and obsess over food, even when not hungry?
  • Have you tried to abstain from food and found that you could not (i.e. a diet)?
  • Have you ever eaten foods that you know are bad for your health? Even when your health is deteriorating (i.e. diabetes)?
  • Have you ever found that you could not control your food intake? Could not stop after the first bite?
  • An excellent questionnaire that you can use is the 20 questions that the Food Addicts in Recovery group uses. If you answer yes to just a few of these, you might be a food addict, rather than just enjoying your food.
  • Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
  • Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
  • Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
  • Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
  • Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
  • Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about you’re eating habits or weight?
  • Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
  • Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
  • Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  • Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
  • Do you eat in secret?
  • Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
  • Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
  • Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
  • Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
  • Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
  • Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
  • Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
  • Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

*Copyright © 2014 Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

The Yale Food Addiction Scale

The Yale Food Addiction Scale is a different way to diagnose food addiction from a scientific and clinical perspective. A diagnosis of food addiction from the medical or psychiatric framework does not yet exist, but a scale such as this marks the first step towards professional credibility of this disease. This is also based on the DSM IV criteria of addiction (substance abuse/dependency).

According to the Yale Scale, if you answer yes to 3 or more of the following criteria, you could be suffering from a clinical addiction to food:

  • I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than I had planned.
  • Not eating certain types of food or cutting down on certain types of food is something I worry about.
  • I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or lethargic from overeating.
  • There have been times when I consumed certain foods so often or in such large quantities that I spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating instead of working, spending time with my family or friends, or engaging in other important activities or recreational activities I enjoy.
  • I kept consuming the same types of food or the same amount of food even though I was having emotional and/or physical problems.
  • Over time, I have found that I need to eat more and more to get the feeling I want, such as reduced negative emotions or increased pleasure.
  • I have had withdrawal symptoms when I cut down or stopped eating certain foods. (Please do NOT include withdrawal symptoms caused by cutting down on caffeinated beverages such as soda pop, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.) For example: Developing physical symptoms, feeling agitated, or feeling anxious.
  • My behaviour with respect to food and eating causes significant distress.
  • I experience significant problems in my ability to function effectively (daily routine, job/school, social activities, family activities, health difficulties) because of food and eating.

Food Addiction Treatment

As addiction is a chronic condition, avoiding triggering foods and learning the tools to help you identify and prevent a relapse are essential to your recovery. For example, at Renascent, we use an abstinence-based model that integrates 12-step facilitation with other best practices in clinical and medical approaches, which has been shown to help people achieve long-term success.

In a typical treatment program with individual and group counselling, you will learn how food addiction affects your body, how to develop and maintain a food plan without feeling deprived, how to follow calorie restrictions, and how to maintain your whole mind and body health. Weight loss in a quality food addiction treatment program is inevitable, and at Renascent treatment centres, we also give you the tools to keep it off for good.

Steer clear of any treatment centres that rely on gimmicks, unusual foods, or magic pills. Instead, you need a program that uses a balanced food plan to support your hunger cues. Eating should continue to pleasurable as you learn how to eat to achieve a happier, healthier you.

Renascent offers Canada’s only exclusive inpatient and outpatient programs specifically designed to treat compulsive eating and food addiction. These programs are designed and delivered by our specialized team, including a registered psychologist, registered psychotherapist, registered dietitian, and certified food addiction counsellors, as well as our board-certified addiction medical doctor.

Intensive Primary Care – Why it’s Important

An intensive treatment program is like a kick-start to your recovery. A quality program grounded in evidence and a client- and family-centred approach will be like a reset button for your healing and success. Add in around-the-clock counselling and support, and education in practical recovery skills, and the right treatment program can help you get to the underlying issues of your addiction and empower you to manage your weight and eating once and for all.

The overall goal of any primary treatment program for food addiction is therefore abstinence from triggering foods and other mood-altering substances to improve your quality of life. After completing an intensive program, you’ll have learned:

  • How food addiction affects your body, mind, and relationships.
  • How to manage feelings of guilt and shame, maintain your self-esteem and set healthy boundaries.
  • About grief and the stages of recovery.
  • How to shop, chop, and prepare healthy meals.

Lasting Recovery from a Food Addiction

“I was helped by counsellors to make changes that have literally saved my life. I have been able to remain abstinent since leaving treatment by using all the tools that were given to me. I work this program every single day and it has become a way of life for me. I have a plan of eating that I follow each day. I have a sponsor who helps me and I have a support system of people in my life that have gone through the same experiences, and who are also in recovery. I now have freedom from the mental obsession and physical cravings that used to plague me relentlessly.

I’ve lost at least 100 lbs. and I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I’m active and I can do things I only dreamed of doing before. I believe in this program. It has worked for me. The key for me was willingness. I am so grateful that I have been helped to understand that recovery from eating compulsively is possible.”

Excerpt from Renascent Food Addiction Alumni post, November 2017

Research shows that people are particularly vulnerable to relapse during the first three months following intensive treatment for an addiction. The challenges of returning to everyday life present significant stressors and it can be difficult to apply the skills learned during intensive treatment without ongoing support.

Continuing Care and Alumni Programs

Finding an after-care program, like the Continuing Care and Alumni programs offered at Renascent, extends your counselling support, peer support, and education following your primary intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment period. The goal of a program like Continuing Care is to support you to maintain your abstinence, and help you re-establish it if you struggle with relapse.

Typically, an after-care program is available to clients as an in-class format or over the phone. And you don’t have to have a referral or have completed your primary treatment at the same centre to enrol. Alumni programs go an addition step and provide a healthy, safe, and strong social community foundation for long-term recovery to thrive. From group meetings to social events and volunteer opportunities, an alumni program can be a vital part of your personal growth and long-term recovery.

Your Road to Recovery Starts Here

Your addiction recovery journey begins with “I need help.” We’ve helped almost 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

For a free and confidential consultation with one of our counsellors, call 1-866-232-1212 anytime, day or night, or contact us today.

Dr. Vera Tarman’s 10th Renascent-aversary

Dr. Vera Tarman is celebrating a decade of work at Renascent! To mark the occasion, we asked her to answer a few questions from the famous Proust Questionnaire.

 

When and where were you happiest?

 

I have a number of moments when I am happy.  Most are when I am feeling grateful. I think the publication of my book Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction, and the willingness of the Renascent program to embrace the concept and treatment of food addiction, are amongst my happiest gratitudes. These are culminations of a life’s dream realized. I know that they are small steps in a larger picture, but I have been able to pass the torch of the message of food addiction to many, and for this I am eternally grateful.

 

What is the trait you most admire most in others?

 

Resilience, willingness, endurance. More than anything else, I admire willingness and the steadfast devotion to a cause. I am a pragmatist, so success is secondary. Failure is part of any venture. The ability to show up when an intention has been set, no matter the fear, discomfort, inconvenience, the previous failures, is a quality I admire. Ultimately I believe this is a spiritual act, to let a higher purpose or power guide the way through the obstacles that life presents. I would go as far as to say it is THE key ingredient to happiness, as well as to long term recovery.

 

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

 

I am impatient with a perfectionist attitude.  More accurately, I fear this trait in others. Since there is a fundamental randomness in the universe, and since we can not  possibly control all the variables in any venture, failure is built in to the very fabric of life. To be a perfectionist is deny this (and hence be emotionally vulnerable to its effects) and could doom a creative response to unforeseen changes. I am impatient with people who are perfectionists, because I know they could be knocked at the knees at the first gate. I try to be understanding as I appreciate perfectionism to be a coping mechanism for many people, but worry how it will impact on their overall performance. Will they be there when we need each other the most?

 

What do you most dislike about yourself?

 

I am too attached to my schedule, the times, the to-do list, the work. I have very little sense of spontaneity. While I get things done and am fairly reliable, I am not an easy going person!

 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

 

I am not a procrastinator. It is very important to me to do things as quickly as I can. I am extremely aware of the seductive nature of manana  — putting things off until tomorrow. But letting things slip into the future list of things to do is like letting them get sucked into a black hole. These tasks became harder each day to pull out and attend to. Each day something is put off, the harder it is to deal with. The easiest time to do something is right now. Just like addiction, putting something off one day — one day is too many and then 1,000 days is not enough to get to it!

 

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

 

My dog! The joy my dog gives me and others is beyond my understanding. The love she receives from me and others is amazing. I would love to be such a magnet or kernel of love wherever I go — and not even know it! She lives a blessed life. She is a Buddha, an unawares vehicle of love.

 

Are You Addicted to Food?

by Dr. Vera Tarman

I’ve often been asked, “How can I tell if I’m addicted to food, or if I just enjoy eating? Are all people who enjoy eating ‘addicts’?” These are very good questions.

Enjoying food is definitely not the same thing as being addicted to food. Our brains are wired to enjoy food — that is a primal survival mechanism. In fact, we enjoy foods that are high fat and high sugar for that very reason — these foods are energy dense and ensure our survival by making us want to eat more for immediate energy and storage purposes. Even the food addict who is in recovery still enjoys their food.

What makes the enjoyment addictive is the key question. When the enjoyment has become so large that it dominates other natural pleasures, a problem is flagged. We are either in a deficit so we need the excess food ( i.e. we’re very hungry) or we are in a disordered pattern of eating. The natural ebbs and flows of pleasure are misaligned: Notice that when you are hungry, the plate of brussels sprouts and glass of water is very enjoyable, but when you are full, you no longer desire them. The desire to eat ebbs when it is no longer necessary to ‘fuel up.’ But when you are not hungry and you still desire to eat, something else is operating that keeps you wanting to continue to eat or to ‘enjoy’ the food.

There are many neurochemical and hormonal reasons for this disorder, and one of them is the neurochemistry of addiction. The person may be rooted into an addiction loop that makes them crave food even when they no longer need it – in fact, even when they are no longer enjoying it. They still want it anyway.

The primary way an addiction doctor can determine if a person has a food addiction is by looking at the patient’s eating patterns and food behaviour. The doctor is looking for a dysfunction in the normal ‘ebbs and flows’ of wanting and not wanting food. We use questions from the DSM IV which determine addiction. Here are just a few:

  1. Do you crave and obsess over food, even when not hungry?
  2. Have you tried to abstain from food and found that you could not (i.e. a diet)?
  3. Have you ever eaten foods that you know are bad for your health? Even when your health is deteriorating (i.e. diabetes)?
  4. Have you ever found that you could not control your food intake? Could not stop after the first bite?

An excellent questionnaire that you can use is the 20 questions that the Food Addicts in Recovery group uses. If you answer yes to just a few of these, you might be a food addict, rather than just enjoying your food.

  1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
  2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
  3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
  4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
  5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
  6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about you’re eating habits or weight?
  7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
  8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
  9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
  10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
  12. Do you eat in secret?
  13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
  14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
  15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
  16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
  17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
  18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
  19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
  20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

Copyright © 2014 Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

The Yale Food Addiction Scale

The Yale Food Addiction Scale is an attempt to diagnose food addiction from a scientific and clinical perspective. A diagnosis of food addiction from the medical or psychiatric framework does not yet exist, but a scale such as this marks the first step towards professional credibility of this disease. This is based on the DSM lV criteria of addiction (substance abuse/dependency)

If you answer yes to three or more of the following criteria, you could be suffering from a clinical addiction to food.

  1. I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than I had planned.
  2. Not eating certain types of food or cutting down on certain types of food is something I worry about.
  3. I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or lethargic from overeating.
  4. There have been times when I consumed certain foods so often or in such large quantities that I spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating instead of working, spending time with my family or friends, or engaging in other important activities or recreational activities I enjoy.
  5. I kept consuming the same types of food or the same amount of food even though I was having emotional and/or physical problems.
  6. Over time, I have found that I need to eat more and more to get the feeling I want, such as reduced negative emotions or increased pleasure.
  7. I have had withdrawal symptoms when I cut down or stopped eating certain foods. (Please do NOT include withdrawal symptoms caused by cutting down on caffeinated beverages such as soda pop, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.) For example: Developing physical symptoms, feeling agitated, or feeling anxious.
  8. My behaviour with respect to food and eating causes significant distress.
  9. I experience significant problems in my ability to function effectively (daily routine, job/school, social activities, family activities, health difficulties) because of food and eating.

 

Dr. Tarman’s book, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction can be ordered at amazon.ca. More information on food addiction can be found at addictionsunplugged.com.

Food Junkies – The Truth About Food Addiction

by Vera Tarman

In the spring of 2013, the struggle with food was back. Did I really think it had gone away?

The impact was startling. I looked at the tablespoon of almond butter and felt a surge of warmth and excitement. After the third tablespoon, I groaned and put the jar away. I knew I was in trouble. I had been here before and I could feel the dread beneath the exhilaration.

The next day I picked up the nut butter jar and morosely stared at it. Then, despite my misgivings, I ate three more heaping tablespoons. But I hardly noticed the taste or the size of my servings. The old chorus had already started: Why not savour just one more spoonful? Just one more to really taste the delicious sweetness of the nuts, the succulent smoothness of the texture? I managed to confine myself that day to only those three mouthfuls, but I wanted more.

The next day I barely restrained myself, eating five towering tablespoons. I knew even this would not suffice. It was as if an old hunger had resurrected itself, a hunger that seemed bottomless, impossible to satisfy.

I was in a vortex of addiction that Dr. Gabor Maté has described as the “realm of the hungry ghosts.” This had nothing to do with taste anymore; I was trying to get a feeling of satisfaction again that was becoming more elusive the more I tried to get it. By the end of the month, I was sometimes shovelling more than ten mammoth tablespoons into my mouth each night. I knew I had to stop, but each night I gave in.

The scale became a terror. I promised myself I would stop once I gained five pounds. Then it was ten pounds. The scale kept climbing as my binges continued. By the time the scale indicated that I had gained fifteen extra pounds, I knew I needed a new strategy. I planned to cut back my nut butter splurges to only once a week, just on Saturdays. That plan lasted three days. I couldn’t possibly hold out until the weekend.

So I went back to devising how to eat only a few tablespoons a day. I asked my partner to monitor me, parceling out the tablespoons so I could not cheat. That didn’t last for even one day; I simply could not bring myself to ask her. I scanned my options — what rule could I devise that might actually work?

To stop eating this highly triggering food that had trapped me in this insane web of obsession and denial, craving and despair, did not seem possible. The thoughts in my head kept leaping from How could a food do this? to I can’t give this up, this is just too good to give up. I want that buzz, just one more time.

Why was I here, at this place, again? Why, when I knew what was happening and actually knew how to stop this cycle, was I caught in this loop again?

It took one year before I was ready to take the only action I knew would work. One year because I was stubborn and unwilling to give up the memory of that first night, wanting it back, if even for a few minutes. I could not let go of the anticipation that the next tablespoon would again give me that sparkle of delight. Nothing else I knew of could give me that thrill, other than alcohol, which I had foresworn five years earlier.

I grudgingly admitted to myself that I had a problem with this particular food: nut butters were a trigger so I had to quit eating them forever. I already knew I could not eat sugar, bread, chips, and pasta. Now I had to admit I was powerless to control my use of nuts too. The only solution: abstinence.

I discovered once again another truth about eating trigger foods: I would do anything — fast for an entire day or walk for hours to burn calories — just to allow myself to eat them. The craving was that strong. But, once I stopped, my desire gradually faded; it is as if the beast inside me is deflating each day that I deny it fuel. Slowly, I lose the mental obsession and regain my peace of mind.

I never did lose the fifteen pounds I gained, but I did stop the disease that had caught me off guard once again.

Why am I telling you this when I should be offering hope of freedom from addiction? My intention is to instill hope, but within a realistic context. Based on my personal and clinical experience, I believe that addiction of any kind has no cure. There is only a daily reprieve from its course of malignant action. The engine can restart at any time if the ignition is sparked. The engine is always idling.

The evidence has shown me time and again that I am still a food addict and food addicts are always in recovery, always just one mouthful away from the next binge. Admitting we are addicts is not about holding onto a “victim” identity and wallowing in despair. It is simply a reminder that we are powerless over our internal urges, cravings, and addictions once they are triggered. It is our job to be sure that we identify and avoid the triggers in the first place.

It is our job to avoid the first bite.

My message to you is that if you have a hunger that seems eternally ravenous, there is an explanation. You may be a food addict. Once you understand why this peculiar phenomenon of desiring food beyond “normal” hunger occurs, the solution to quelling that need is obvious. It cannot be done by filling that seemingly bottomless pit with food and more food. The solution to quenching that insatiable hunger is to put the alluring food down, since eating more of it only leads to wanting more of it.

Rather than trying to receive gratification from food or any other addictive substance, turning that desire toward connecting with others placates that ache. By sharing our humanity, we can bond with others and feed our own soul. We are then able to feel full at last; the bottomless pit that food addicts experiences can then fade like a bad dream. Freedom from food obsession can taste better than anything you could possibly imagine.

I invite you to leave the bleak world of food junkies and join me, by helping others on this journey towards food serenity. The power is ours.

Excerpted from Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction Copyright @2014, Vera Tarman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author. A longer version of this excerpt appeared in the Toronto Star on November 15, 2014.
Dr. Tarman’s new book, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction can be ordered at amazon.ca.