Binge Eating Disorder is a very new diagnosis, having been classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a medical condition in 2013.
It was first observed by a psychiatrist named Robert Spitzer in 1990, who noticed that a significant number of patients reported binging and not purging, thus not qualifying as bulimic.
Indeed, around that same time, other clinicians were noticing that patients were coming in asking for help with the same symptoms.
It wasn’t until 23 years later, though, that the diagnosis became official, and public education on BED became widespread in medical school programs.
On the heels of the BED diagnosis making it into the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and thus becoming official, in 2013, pharmaceutical companies began marketing drugs specifically targeted for BED.
Only these weren’t new drugs, they were drugs that had been used to treat ADHD, rebranded to treat BED.
How Do These Drugs Work?
Right now, since the diagnosis is fairly new, the only drugs on the market that are used to treat BED are schedule II federally controlled substances – while approved for medical use, they are recognized to have a high risk of abuse. And there is good reason; they are amphetamines.
If this feels and sounds familiar, it’s because the first medical use of amphetamines was in the form of weight loss pills.
And while BED and weight gain do not always go hand in hand, if we accept that weight gain is by and large at least partially the result of overeating, the repurposing of the drug becomes apparent.
Amphetamines work by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the central nervous system, or CNS, essentially “speeding us up,” hence the classic name of the street drug variation of amphetamines, “speed.”
They also increase the amount of time that dopamine remains active in the brain, and reverse the reuptake process (meaning dopamine hangs around in the synaptic gap longer before being sucked back up by the brain’s dopamine reuptake pumps).
This is not to say that pharmaceutical amphetamines are close in properties to street amphetamines. These newer drugs do not contain methamphetamine and therefore do not create a rush. Additionally, they must be digested before they take effect, creating a slower release and making them harder to abuse.
Still, with a potent hit of stimulation to the CNS, insomnia and loss of appetite have been observed as side effects of pharmaceutical amphetamines like Adderall. These are openly discussed on the list of potential side effects.
Since increasing dopamine levels in the brain and stimulating the CNS results in many concurrent effects in the body, what’s considered a side effect (loss of appetite) in the context of one usage (treatment of ADHD) is actually, in this case, the desired effect.
Swapping One Addiction for Another?
Amphetamines are known to be habit-forming, and addiction is listed as a potential side-effect of BED medications, along with cardiovascular issues.
So, in effect, using an amphetamine to battle binge eating is potentially an act of swapping one addiction for another.
And while it may provide relief from the bloatedness, brain fog and discomfort of having just binged, what are we creating psycho-spiritually in the long run?
When I attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting last week (you can listen to me tell the story here), the thing that stood out at me so clearly was the similarity between addictions across the board.
From my experience working with clients and hearing self-confessed addicts talk, everyone who battles addiction is afraid of facing something ~ we are all afraid that, if we faced the world nakedly, without the filter of our addictive habit, we would be crushed. We might not be able to handle it.
And, up until a certain point, that may be true. We may actually need the crutch to stay alive, to make it through the sometimes very crushing events of life.
But my observation is that, once we come to a place of understanding that our addiction is harming us, this is the signal that we are ready to begin, gradually, letting go of the crutch and learning to walk on our own.
One Major Reason to Stick with the Original Addiction
Addictions have a genetic component and an environmental component. They also have a psycho-spiritual component, and in the realm of spirit, there is no good and bad. All experiences, no matter how tough, are opportunities for growth.
Addictions, specifically, come with a purpose.
They are teachers that come with a specific lesson to teach us. That’s not a free ticket to indulge blindly, rather it means that when you are caught up in an addiction, wake up your awareness. Instead of going numb, start to ask questions.
Here are some questions to start with:
- What is this addiction trying to show me about myself?
- What is it I have not looked at?
- What feelings am I trying not to face?
Boredom, anger, pain, loneliness, these are often the low-hanging fruit of feelings that we as humans would rather avoid than sit with.
Are you beginning to see how swapping this original addiction for another one just complicated the tangled web of avoidance?
We are now avoiding the very thing (binge eating) we were using to avoid our feelings in the first place.
And in doing so, we are erasing our biggest lead, our biggest clue, the trail of breadcrumbs leading us to our true selves.
Because once we discover what it is we are trying to avoid, and face that, knowing that we will make it through ~ that’s when breakthroughs come.
Is It Possible to Address Addiction at the Root?
One thing I want to share about me as a coach is that I long ago set down the notions of good and bad and try to stay conscious every day not to pick them back up again.
I don’t see pharmaceutical solutions to BED as being good or bad, and indeed, for some, that might be on their path and might be the best next step for them. Only your heart and your intuition can tell you for sure.
Additionally, I’m confident that our friends in the pharmaceutical industry have the best intentions. We all want the best for humanity and are doing what we can to foster that, and that’s a perspective I follow no matter what.
That said, if you don’t feel aligned with considering prescription medication for BED and wish to look closer at your addiction from the point of view of your spirit ~ following the breadcrumbs to a different kind of liberation, one that requires a lot of courage and the willingness to feel truly alive even in the midst of great pain ~ there are other beautiful ways to approach healing and a lot of support for you here.
* Curb the Binge is a coaching website and the information written here is intended to be used for educational purposes only. None of the information on curbthebinge.com should be taken as medical advice or override the recommendations of your medical doctor.