Whatever it is you crave, you can usually bet it’s not good for you. Of course, if you’re honestly craving raw vegetables, meditation, affirmations and altruism, maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you’re like most people, you will at some point crave something that really isn’t going to help you achieve your goals or even make you happy in the long run. Why are there so many types of cravings?
And it’s not just limited to craving substances... even behaviors can be addictive. The new version of the textbook that classifies psychiatric disorders, the DSM-V, is expected to classify behavioral addictions for the first time; compulsive gambling will now be called Gambling Addiction, and even Internet Addiction will be included in the “needs further study” category in the appendix. Although sex addiction and sugar addiction are not yet included in the psychiatric textbook, clinical experience suggests that these may be just as addictive and just as destructive for some sufferers. The verdict is in…behaviors can be just as addictive as alcohol and drugs.
However, its not all nature. Research shows that family environment and social factors play a role too, and, according to a study of nearly 1800 twins, the effect of these “nurture” factors is most pronounced during early adolescence and begins to wear off as we age. Environmental factors that may contribute include access to drugs, poor family bonding, and peer drug use (yes, it does matter!) Children and adolescents with sexually intrusive behavior are more likely to have been abused themselves. Early exposures to gambling and poor family cohesion significantly increase the risk of developing gambling addiction. Low self-esteem, being bullied and depression increase the risk of binge eating. To very broadly generalize, being exposed to addictive substances and behaviors in childhood, especially without adequate support, can clearly influence what and how strongly we crave. Trauma only worsens the picture.
The expression “there is no accounting for taste” is only partially true at best. Cravings are complex but they do have genetic and social factors that drive them. Although nature plays a strong role in what we crave, environmental effects are also implicated, which means that more focus on prevention at a public health level is sorely needed.
To learn more about what causes cravings and how to tame them, check out Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough (Hazelden Publishing 2013).