General Adaptation Theory

Hans Selye, an MD, over forty years ago proposed a theory about allergy that still can be applied to allergy and addiction today. It is too simple to address the medical treatment of allergy, but it is still a useful model of the addictive process. It describes how the body responds to toxic (poisonous) substances or to excessive amounts of almost any substance. The body reacts progressively in these phases:

Alarm phase This is the body’s signal that you have encountered toxic levels o_f a food or other substance. It can be seen in your first reaction to a cigarette, or in the first time you got sick on too much sugar at Halloween. These are signs that your body is having trouble coping with the onslaught of toxic levels of a substance.

Adaptation phase Your body’s biochemistry can adapt to minimize the effect of most toxins. Some poisons are so toxic that death occurs instead, and other alarm reactions may be so severe that you never touch that substance again. But many warning signs can be ignored, and the adaptation begins. This adaptation may shield you from toxic damage for many years. You quickly adapt to the presence of tobacco smoke or to alcohol or to high levels of sugar in your diet.

Degenerative phase Eventually, if enough toxins are consumed or produced, the adaptation mechanisms begin to break down, and they can no longer shield you from the effects of the toxin. Examples are the smoker’s racking cough, the drinker’s hangover or “jitters,” and the heavy sugar user’s indigestion or daytime drowsiness.

Adaptive Stage Allergy

The body attempts to “take care” of toxic chemicals or toxic levels of ordinarily nontoxic substances for as long as possible, whether they are introduced from the outside or manufactured within.

This is the stage where you can easily delude yourself and others into thinking that you really don’t have a problem. This adaptation may last for many years. Although you frequently disrupt the balance of your biochemistry, the effects and their damage are minimized by corrective actions your body takes to try to maintain equilibrium.

Degenerative Stage Allergy

In the middle to late stages of addiction, your body’s ability to adapt begins to break down; it can no longer shield you from the toxic effects. Denial or delusion may keep you from seeing that there is a problem, but others will begin to notice it. Many eating addicts, in contrast to most other addicts, enter the degenerative stage of their addiction before or around puberty. This degeneration may continue for many years.

Symptoms of Adaptive Failure

Just as some people have more athletic ability than others, some people can tolerate biochemical imbalances better than others. These people will endure more abuse, but eventually their adaptive mechanisms are exhausted, and they enter the degenerative stage of the illness.

Obesity Being excessively overweight is a clear sign that the body is not adapting well to the intake of food, especially fats. This makes obese people the most obvious addicts. The more obese a person is, the higher the probability of addiction to eating, with all the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences of addiction.

Emaciation This is also easy to see in advanced anorexia nervosa. Relatives and friends who have not seen an anorexic in several years are often deeply shocked by this person’s emaciated appearance. Other addicts may become emaciated if they neglect nutrition, or if the drug (such as alcohol) damages vital organs such as the liver or pancreas.

Emotional turmoil Many addicts experience tremendous emotional chaos from struggling to try to control their drinking, using, eating, purging, weight, or addictive behavior. They also may suffer from intense guilt, poor body image, and low self-esteem.

Cardiovascular All addictions endanger the heart and other bodily organs. Although normal exercise enhances cardiovascular health, exercise addiction can be dangerous when pushed beyond the body’s ability to repair itself.

Susceptibility to other diseases Poor nutrition can make you more susceptible to other diseases. Heavy drinkers may get sick more often than their coworkers. Eating addicts who binge and purge, fast, or follow unhealthy diets may have more viral and bacterial infections, stress-related disorders, and other health problems. Obese food addicts may avoid medical help, or the obesity may mask conditions requiring health care, including pregnancy. Smoking, of course, aggravates virtually every disease known.

Diabetes It isn’t clear whether a high sugar intake causes diabetes, but it certainly aggravates it. Many of those who die or suffer blindness or lose fingers or toes do so because of the combination of diabetes and eating addiction.

Suicide We have no idea how many suicides relate to addiction. Most people who commit suicide do not leave a note explaining it, and those who do rarely mention their struggles with alcohol, drugs, food, or whatever their addiction might have been. Many addicts report thoughts of suicide or that they attempted suicide because of their struggles with addiction.

Allergies, see also: Addiction, Alcohol, Binge history, Craving, Eating plans, Metabolism, Neurotransmitters, Nicotine, Nutrition, Obesity, Physical aspects, Progression, Sugar, Tolerance, Unmanageability, Withdrawal.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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