Beware of Transfer Addiction
At her sister's wedding, Fiona decided to try her first taste of alcohol after weight loss surgery (WLS). She had waited 11 months and wasn't going to deny herself a glass of champagne on such an important day. And wow, did she enjoy that champagne! She sipped on a small drink, got a nice buzz, and laughed the evening away. No big deal.
After WLS, Fiona had done a pretty good job of changing her eating habits. She almost completely avoided sugar and ate mostly protein and veggies. She loved her success, but there was a part of her who missed indulging in food. When she tried the champagne, she felt self indulgent and relaxed. And it didn't affect her weight -- well, not yet.
The following week when Fiona was grocery shopping she decided to pick up a bottle of wine. It would be great to have a small glass before dinner sometimes. She poured herself a taste when she got home from the store just to find out how it tasted and enjoyed another little buzz.
Over time, Fiona began to sneak wine during the day. She hid it when her husband commented on her consumption. The behavior of wanting something forbidden, getting it, hiding it, and consuming it in private was so familiar to Fiona it was a relief to have the wine -- and she slowly built up the quantity she was drinking.
When her support group leader shared a story about a group member who had been in a car accident and was arrested for driving drunk, Fiona felt uncomfortable. She had driven to pick up her son from soccer the prior evening after she had a small glass of wine. At the time she knew she was tipsy.
Still, she poured herself more wine when she got home from the support group and drank it in the basement, because her husband almost never went down there.
Luckily, Fiona didn't have to get arrested for drunk driving to really "get" that she had a problem. Instead, her son found an empty wine bottle in his toy box in the basement, when Fiona had another mother and son over for a play date. Fiona was completely humiliated.
Embarrassed and ashamed, Fiona called her support group leader to talk about what happened, and the support group leader referred her to a counselor who specializes in substance abuse.
Why did Fiona turn into an alcoholic overnight?
"Fiona simply switched one addiction for another," explains Katie Jay, Director, NAWLS. "It's not uncommon for a person who gives up one addictive behavior to pick up another addictive behavior. Fiona had quit using food as a soothing substance in her life. The alcohol came in and filled that void.
"Switching addictions is also demonstrated when a person develops an unnatural relationship with eating and exercise following weight loss surgery," continues Katie.
"Exercise becomes a way to compensate for overeating, and can turn into what is called exercise bulimia. It's not bad to exercise as part of a plan to control one's weight. But if the overeating becomes excessive, and then the exercise becomes obsessive -- that's a problem. Your physical health can be threatened -- not to mention your peace of mind.
'The other common addiction people switch to is spending," Katie adds. "Many people get such a kick out of shopping for new clothes they get a little carried away. Shopping can definitely become a mood-changing activity. And therein lies the addiction."
Katie recommends several ways to address the issue of switching addictions:
- Identify your addictions and the extent to which they are ruling your life.
- Educate yourself about your particular addictions by doing research and talking to professionals who have experience in those areas.
- Get counseling if you are unable to control your addictive behavior on your own.
- Try a support group that addresses your specific addiction, such as overeaters anonymous, alcoholics anonymous, debtors anonymous, etc.
"Remember," stresses Katie, "addictions are very common and nothing to be ashamed of. But, they are hard to get rid of in isolation. Get help if you are struggling. And keep in mind any addictions left untreated absolutely will take over your life and attack your self esteem."