Holidays and Addiction

I have always said that Holiday time is like adding a part-time job to our already busy lives.  We don’t want anyone to feel forgotten at Christmas, we all want to enjoy more intricately made meals, and we either are striving to be more in-the-moment with those we love, or we are dreading spending time with those we are mostly able to avoid at all other times of the year. Both create new stressors. 

Holidays usually involve more “partying” on some level, and for those who might be prone to addictions - including sugar here for everyone who thought this wasn’t going to apply to them- it’s especially difficult as addictions can be set off by Holiday fun. 

Process Addictions

This morning I was one of two speakers on a Tele-class for the Alliance for Addiction Solutions ( and was reminded how difficult this beautiful time of year is for so many.  The Tele-class was focused on Process Addictions, something that is showing up in practitioners’ offices in new ways as technology expands.  Process Addictions are basically addictions to Activities or Processes.  This could be video-gaming, internet surfing, pornography, sex-addiction, gambling, co-dependency, exercise, and others.  

The effect on the brain for process addictions is the same effect as in substance use addiction. In most cases, there is a dopamine deficiency, or “Reward Deficiency Syndrome.” The activity, just like cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, floods the brain with dopamine causing great pleasure and feelings of reward.  Just like with substance use, when this is repeated, it causes the brain to make less of its own dopamine and to become less responsive to dopamine, causing the victim to fall deeper and deeper into addiction.  

Oreos and Cocaine

Connecticut College’s study on Oreos and cocaine showed us that not only are Oreos as addictive to the brain as cocaine, but they actually activated more neurons than both cocaine and morphine. 

Douglas Gentile wanted to prove that people could not be addicted to video-gaming; the results of his first study in 1999 shocked him and he has gone on to show that over 8% of all gamers are addicted.  He goes on to say that gaming meets our basic human needs - a feeling of belonging and connectedness and a need to feel competent. 

In my practice, I use individualized targeted supplements, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and individualized nutrition counseling to combat addiction of all kinds.  My treatment always includes amino acid therapy for addictions.  Supplements like DPA (D-phenylalanine) and DLPA (with L-phenylalanine also) can increase dopamine levels naturally.

If you are struggling with getting pulled into an old pattern or addiction, here are three reminders:

  1. Don’t forget to eat - missing meals causes relapses of all kinds.
  2. Decide what is most important to you during the Holiday season and put your most energies into that.  Whatever the activity is, ask yourself why you are doing it.  Often we do things out of habit, or believing that others expect it and neither of these answers are good enough.  Do what you love and what is important to you and those you love.
  3. Indulge when it is really worth it to you, not because you have already blown your diet or your goals.  Enjoy your favorite treats of the season, not everything that is brought into the office or at the party. 

And don’t forget that connectedness is a basic human need.  Make time and set the stage for connection, remembering that you can meet this need for others whether it is a stranger in a store or a loved one on Christmas morning.