Feel hungry, eat a meal — it seems like a simple-enough equation. For many individuals who are recovering from addiction, hunger can trigger a wave of intense cravings — cravings that can lead to relapse. Can taking time out from a busy day to really examine uncomfortable feelings help avoid relapse?
HALT is an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If you’ve ever noticed a sudden change in your mood or a rise in your anxiety level, it may be because you feel HALT. These feelings make us more vulnerable to dangerous choices — much like what occurs when someone who is trying to lose weight grabs calorie-packed fast food, instead of waiting to get home to prepare a healthier meal. The individual knows fast food is the wrong choice, but hunger circumvents logic, demanding instant satisfaction.
How Hunger Affects You, Physically and Emotionally
Going hungry doesn’t just affect you physically, although the drop in blood sugar and weakness that accompany it are noticeably unpleasant. According to Psychology Today, hunger is “a complex physiological signal, often ‘compelling and unpleasant.’”
Some research suggests that individuals with a high level of emotional tension may feel intense hunger even when there is no nutritional need present. Sustained hunger leads to preoccupation with food and, at worst, disease. In one experiment of healthy males who volunteered to reduce caloric intake over several months, the researcher found that the men became “depressed, listless, unable to concentrate, socially withdrawn, and apathetic. They also began to neglect their personal appearance: they no longer brushed their teeth, combed their hair, or shaved.”
Under these circumstances, the finding that hungry people experience “serious mental changes that result in impaired decision-making skills” seems obvious. And although feeling hungry for a few hours cannot compare to the agony of feeling hunger for months, it seems clear that the need to eat overrides rational thought and decision-making skills. For an addicted person, ignoring this basic human need is dangerous.
Why Hunger Can Trigger Relapse
Research from the Yale School of Medicine found that certain nerve cells in the midbrain are linked with hunger, overeating and addiction. In the study, mice that weren’t interested in food were more interested in cocaine, and vice versa. The study’s authors feel strongly that impaired midbrain function dangerously influences motivation and cognition. The point is that hunger and addiction live in the same place in the brain, and one strongly influences the other — the all-too-common feeling of hunger can lead the brain unwittingly into bad decisions. Those bad decisions may lead to relapse.
Managing Triggers During Addiction Recovery
Safely managing triggers in recovery means taking the time to understand the feelings that motivate your actions. In the case of hunger, that may be as simple as remembering when the last time was you ate and relaxing with a nutritious, filling meal. Wait 15 minutes and see if you still feel the same way. You can also try drinking a large glass of water. In many cases, the brain mistakes thirst for hunger.
Call 12 Keys Rehab for More Information
If you’re interested in learning more about the relationship between hunger, relapse and addiction, contact us today.