Posted on Dec 13, 2021, 7 p.m.
If you were asked to name the dangers of nicotine addiction, you would probably think of some common ones, such as various types of cancer or even growing annual death rates. These dangers are what make those large Surgeon General warnings on nicotine products so large- and so necessary. But what if we looked to a less known danger, such as diet? What if nicotine addiction is especially dangerous because it causes eating disorders?
Understanding Eating Disorders
For those unfamiliar with eating disorders, it’s easy to assume that eating disorders are simply another way to describe anorexia. However, there are multiple types of eating disorders recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health. In general, the NIMH defines eating disorders as serious and often fatal illnesses associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. The point is, there is a close connection between eating behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
And what about nicotine? How is nicotine addiction described? Besides the fatal symptoms that come with it, like cancer, nicotine addiction can include psychological disturbances such as depression and anxiety. So we have mental and emotional disturbances in nicotine addiction, the same kind of disturbances that can cause eating disorders. But how does this prove that nicotine addiction actually causes eating disorders instead of simply sharing some of the same features?
This connection is not a newly discovered one. A study published over 15 years ago showed the connection between binge eating disorders and chronic smokers. The connection - where chronic nicotine addiction was present in the patients of that study, a large number of them also struggled with binge eating disorders. In fact, the two symptoms seemed to feed off each other.
But since that study was focused on the connection between eating disorders and cigarettes, it begs the question about more recent forms of nicotine addiction, such as vaping. Does vaping carry the same evidence? This year a study reported that nicotine could be the link between vaping and eating disorders. After recording the data of over 51,000 students, the results showed that those who used vaping were much more likely to have an eating disorder during their lifetime.
Nicotine’s Rewarding and Curbing Effect
To understand why this connection exists and how nicotine addiction can cause eating disorders, we have to understand what happens during nicotine consumption. You probably know that nicotine addiction, like other drug addictions, has to do with the receptors in our brain. When nicotine is consumed, dopamine is released in the brain, and it acts as a reward system to encourage further use.
The more nicotine is consumed, the more our brain is trained to repeat the same pattern. But this reward system is also a mechanism in our bodies that hungers for one thing while suppressing another. In fact, one Yale University research scientist discovered nicotine activates a pathway in the brain that suppresses appetite.
Cause, Effect, and Connections
Nicotine addiction can certainly take a dangerous toll on the body. And when we add eating disorders into the equation, we quickly realize why nicotine addiction should not be dismissed as a tame drug or one that is confined to lung problems. Whether we want to treat nicotine addiction and eating disorders like the question of the chicken and the egg issue, two things are certain: Nicotine addiction can make existing eating disorders much more dangerous, and eating disorders cause mental and emotional stress that statistically leads to chronic nicotine addiction.
In either case, these two act like a revolving door and a double dose of danger to our personal health. Because of this, professional help should be sought if you are struggling with either of these. During this time of year, it is especially vital to reach out to your family and friends as a better reward system than anything nicotine can offer.
This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
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National Institute on Mental Health (2016, February). Eating Disorders. Retrieved https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders
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National Library of Medicine (2006, November, 07). Smoking in Eating Disorders. Retrieved https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17056404/
U.S. News (2021, September, 15). Is There a Link Between Vaping and Eating Disorders in the Young? Retrieved: https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-09-15/is-there-a-link-between-vaping-and-eating-disorders-in-the-young
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Delphi Health Group (n.d.). The Role of Family in Active Substance Abuse and Addiction. Retrieved: https://delphihealthgroup.com/addiction/family-role/