A new report in Scientific American Mind suggests that humans who tend to overeat may develop the same patterns of neural activity as drug addicts.

For example, in 2006, a physician at substance abuse center in Michigan noticed that many of his patients had recently undergone bariatric surgery to lose weight.  When they succeeded, patients promptly turned to drugs and alcohol. Conversely, recovering drug and alcohol addict tended to gain a lot of weight – i.e. they replace one addiction with another.

Similarly, a 2012 study at the Montreal Diabetes Research Center found elevated chemicals in rats’ brains that mimic the characteristics of drug withdrawal – distress, cravings and pain – when deprived of sugars and fats.

The same patterns were observed in humans – data suggests that earing high-sugar and high-fat diets can lead to cycles of cravings and withdrawal in the same way as drug addiction.

But did you know that in the same way that a person can become addicted to food, they can also become addicted to emotions?

There are chemicals for every emotional state we experience. Those chemicals signal what goes into our cells and the cells then create a “memory” of that emotion.  We become – and may stay – addicted to an emotional state, attachments and beliefs.  We may even experience patterns withdrawal and cravings when deprived on those emotions or stimuli.

While perhaps anecdotal, of course, we all have that one friend or acquaintance who appears to be “addicted” to drama – whether it be in a personal or professional setting.  Through my own (again anecdotal) observations, the same may be said of some divorcing spouses.

In fact, sometimes I am left scratching my head when examining why one couple can divorce amicably when another spends years embroiled in a bitter and time (and money) consuming battle over one issue or another.

In order to better understand this phenomenon, it may be important to recognize a possible neural connection to help to explain why people behave the way that they do during a divorce.

It may even explain why people engage in the relationship to begin with.

On PBS’s, This Emotional Life, Dr. Phyillis, licensed psychologist, psychoanalyst, and co-author of Healing Together explains that there “is a striking correspondence between the psychological dynamics for addiction or substance dependence and the patterns of use, impairment, increased tolerance and withdrawal found in addictive relating.”  She explains:

Addictive relating, as evidenced by the proliferation of books on the subject, is all too common, painful and suffered by both men and women. In my work with people trapped in addictive relationships, it becomes clear that their efforts to “ desperately keep someone” has much more to do with needing the other at any cost than about sharing a loving relationship.

According to Brenda Schaeffer, who has written about the difference between love and addiction, addiction is composed of three elements: obsession or preoccupation, a feeling of being out of control, and continuation despite negative physical and psychological consequences. As with other addictions, the signs of addictive relating often become increasingly evident – but often not to the people involved.

People describe these relationships as “equally threatening as an alcohol or drug problem.”

Addiction seems to be consistent throughout all aspects of life. If one suffers from addiction, it may permeate their eating habits, drug and alcohol consumption and even their relationships – from beginning to end.

Next deadly sin of divorce:  Envy.  Stay tuned.


Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or etbaer@foxrothschild.com.