Do Comfort Foods Increase Your Risk of Relapse? The Dangers of Quick-Relief Seeking and Substitute Addictions
If you’ve ever been prescribed a substitute opiate to treat heroin addiction, you were probably warned that the treatment would generate its own form of dependence and must be taken strictly according to directions. All habits, good and bad, are “addictive” in the sense that we get sufficiently used to them to feel their absence: but nearly all harmful habits are rooted in a wish for quick, easy, infallible ways to induce pleasure or relieve pain. When we think we’ve found the perfect method and then it gets familiar enough to lose some of its effect, and our response is to increase its input without considering potential negative consequences, an addiction is in the making.
Many people in recovery from drugs or alcohol seek to fill the hole with comfort eating, shopping, Internet surfing or something else that generates quick satisfaction but little significance. This can increase the risk of relapse by numbing judgment or by reinforcing the idea that everything should have a quick fix. Or the “substitute” may turn into a new addiction complete with obsessive cravings, failed “this is the last time” resolutions, needing ever-larger “helpings” to get the same effect, and attempts to hide the activity from family and friends.
To avoid this trap, understand that:
THE “QUICK RELIEF” APPROACH CAUSES MORE PROBLEMS THAN IT SOLVES
Even if it leads to no major health issues, it’s not getting you anywhere worthwhile: it’s just keeping you in a rut and encouraging you to procrastinate on more significant actions that require harder work. Much of the frustration that encourages addiction and relapse is rooted in (to paraphrase Eric Hoffer) the vague awareness that our “busyness” is simply a cheap substitute for doing important things we won’t admit we should be doing.
Just enjoying yourself is fine, even important, at times—but when it becomes an end in itself, it not only keeps you from more significant things but loses its “joy” edge.
YOU CAN’T FORCE LIFE TO RUN SMOOTHLY
Viktor Frankl, who survived six months in a Nazi concentration camp, said that the only thing we are guaranteed permanent control over is our own attitudes. Most of us consider it too much trouble to change our thinking—we instead burn energy on the impossible task of trying to change everything else to suit our preferences, then get bitter because life refuses to give us the frustration-free ride we feel our hard work has earned. The next stage is deciding we owe life nothing and might as well take a little frustration relief by any means available.
If you accept that life is complicated and full of hard realities, that you aren’t so uniquely important as to deserve having every little thing go just right by your standards, and that your energy is better spent working on what you can change—without nursing resentment toward what you can’t—you’ll be able to accomplish much more than you would chasing self-centered pain relief. And you’ll likely find that things automatically start going your way more often!
WORTHWHILE THINGS TAKE TIME TO ACCOMPLISH
Remember when you were a kid and “growing up” seemed to take forever? No matter how much you wished it, you couldn’t make time pass faster. Your body may be grown up now, but the “can’t grow up overnight” principle still applies to the lifelong process of maturing emotionally. Too many people don’t even try: they figure they’ve done all the growing up they’ll ever need to do, and reduce their lives to a rut of endless day-by-day duties. Then they wonder why life feels so pointless.
The human soul has an innate need to keep learning and growing throughout life. Go ahead and set some big long-term goals—earning a Ph.D., visiting every national park in the United States, riding in the Tour de France—and never mind how old you’ll be when you reach those goals. The point is not to cross off your whole bucket list as fast as possible, but to fill that bucket with enough passion and progress to last the rest of your life.
If your focus stays on passion and progress, the desire for cheap relief—from drugs to comfort food to shoe-buying—will disappear into limbo without leaving any aftertaste of deprivation.