Stimulants & Addictions
From coffee to chocolate, energy drinks to supplements, and prescription stimulants to alcohol, millions of Americans get a daily fix from stimulants. Many claim they cannot function properly in the morning without their coffee fix. Feelings of tiredness and grogginess are quickly replaced by feelings of energy and mental alertness as our bodies experience an artificially stimulated jolt to the central nervous system.
But it is not only corporate America. You have a long road trip and need to drive through the night. Or perhaps an exam tomorrow and you need to cram in as much studying in as possible. The first thing that comes to mind is a strong cup of coffee, or better yet, an energy drink or caffeine pill to keep you awake and give you the clear head you need. Sound familiar? For many of us, the answer is yes - myself included!
It is not the caffeine shot on the odd occasion that we are talking about. It is the habitual daily jolt we feel we need on a daily basis to get through the day that is the problem.
Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drug that speed up the activity within a person's body and temporarily increase alertness and awareness, our ability to concentrate, and improve our mood. Most people think of stimulants in terms of illegal drugs, like speed, cocaine, and crystal meth, but the majority of stimulants are the legal type that have become a common part of everyday life. What they all have in common is that they artificially stimulate the body, and because of this, they can be very addictive.
Stimulants share many things in common, but each have their own unique mechanisms of action on the body. Some have a very mild effect, whereas others have a much stronger effect. The top most commonly used ones include:
- Caffeine (found in coffee, chocolate, tea, soda, energy drinks, energy bars, etc.)
- Alcohol (classed as a stimulant in small doses)
- Energy drinks, bars, supplements (especially diet)
- Amphetamines (including methamphetamine's)
- Prescription stimulants
There is also a different class of stimulants we are filling our body with that we are not even aware of. These are chemical stimulants called "excitotoxins" that are found in many processed and refined foods. Read on to learn more about excitotoxins.
What's Wrong With Stimulants?
Stimulants are a double-edged sword. When we take in a stimulant, we feel stimulated! But after the stimulation wears off, the secondary effect is to leave us feeling more worn down than we were originally (because of the artificial over-stimulation). We then want more of the stimulant to feel stimulated and make the misguided claim "I always feel better when I have my cup of coffee - it gives me the energy I need!" We ignore the fact that our habit has become so chronic and addictive that we now feel we cannot function very well without the stimulant.
Whether we naturally or chemically keep inducing the rush of adrenaline in our bodies, we will eventually experience a health consequence. This may include conditions such as adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, and thyroid problems.
If you think that caffeine is nothing like other addictive drugs, think again. It functions using the same mechanisms that amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin use to stimulate the brain, only on a much smaller scale. Caffeine's effects may be much milder than these drugs, but it still manipulates the body into craving more, which is why caffeine is addictive.
Similar to stress, stimulants create a fight or flight response from the pituitary gland, triggering the release of stress hormones from the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are triangular shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are chiefly responsible for regulating our response to stress through the release of cortisol and adrenaline. When we take a stimulant on a continual basis (such as drinking coffee and energy drinks), we do not give the body a chance to chill – a chance to relax and find neutral. We keep pumping out cortisol and adrenaline, continually manipulating the body and adrenal glands into forced stimulation.
Daily living can be stressful enough, without putting your body into a continual state of overdrive. Over time, this continual stimulation of adrenaline in the body wears down the adrenals and has an overall depleting effect on the body.
Why would a normal, healthy, vibrant person in the prime of their life feel like they cannot get through the day without a stimulating adrenaline fix? Why do they feel they simply cannot function until they feel the caffeine from a strong cup of coffee hitting their bloodstream? Because they are experiencing an addiction.
Why We Use Stimulants
Simply because we like the way we feel when we take them, and because of this, we want more of them. Common stimulants have chemical structures that are similar to certain neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. Stimulants increase the effects of both of these chemicals in the brain, producing feelings of euphoria and high energy.
Stimulants increase our ability to stay alert and awake and focused. They also decrease our appetite. Additionally, the "trip" people can experience while using amphetamines and methamphetamines is caused by altered sensations that some people enjoy. A common reason people use amphetamines, and especially meth, is to escape the pressures of everyday life.
Stimulants are often abused for sports performance, by people trying to lose weight, and by students who need to stay up all night to cram for an exam or simply get on a high.
Excitotoxins - Stimulants in our Food
Stimulants are not just limited to the most obvious ones. Most of us eat artificial stimulants on a continual basis when we eat processed, packaged foods because they are used invasively by food manufacturers to keep us coming back for more. There is a reason why we are addicted to many of our favorite foods (especially the refined high carbs). In a word... excitotoxins!
Excitotoxins are chemical flavor enhancers that are found in most processed and refined foods. There are many of them including MSG, saccharin (Sweet'N Low®), aspartame (Nutrasweet®/Equal®), as well as other derivatives such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, textured protein, soy protein extract, sodium caseinate, and flood flavoring.
Excitotoxins are used heavily in both salty and sweet snack foods, and not surprisingly, the US government has no laws restricting their use by food manufacturers. Potato chips, pizzas, baked goods, and fast food are often loaded with these dangerous additives, which give us a very subtle and artificial "high" to keep us coming back for more. In the film documentary "Supersize Me," Morgan Spurlock experienced symptoms of both addiction and withdrawal during the 30 days of living exclusively on McDonalds foods.
Excitotoxins affect us by reacting with specialized receptors in the brain in such a way that they not only lead to addiction, but also cause the destruction of certain brain cells. These highly addictive, neurotoxic substances age us prematurely and stimulate the nervous system, over time causing neurodegenerative diseases, neurological disorders, endocrine disorders, heart attacks, strokes, tumors, vision loss, migraines, seizures, and many other conditions. They also worsen or mimic the symptoms of such diseases and conditions as fibromyalgia, MS, lupus, ADD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, and depression.(1)
When it comes to food addictions, to a great degree we are an innocent party. We have been lulled by the media, the internet, food manufacturers, and the many nutritional "experts" into thinking that unhealthy foods are healthy. We have blindly trusted that our government would make sure our food chain is healthy and non-toxic. We fell into the trap of believing that frozen meals are good for us, chemicalized diet foods can help us, that processed soy burgers and other forms of highly processed fake meat are "superior" nutrition, and that popping synthetic daily supplements are "essential" for our health.
We are expected to complicate meals by calculating and weighing, and are led to believe that as long as we lose weight, who cares what kind of food we eat or how unhealthy these foods are. And now we have to deal with addictive food chemicals that keep us coming back for more. It really is no surprise that chronic and autoimmune diseases have reached epidemic proportions.
We have now come to associate many of addictive and unhealthy foods with comfort, good times, social events like ball games, and dates where we are "wined and dined." We have made a solid association of good times = fun foods and drinks.
Food Junkies vs. Drug Junkies vs. Smokers vs. Alcoholics
Processed and refined junk food filled with chemicals are extremely damaging to the body and have been conclusively shown to cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and many other conditions. The excitotoxins in these foods create a circle of addiction, and keep us coming back for more. Millions of Americans are completely addicted to these foods. If they think they aren't, watch what happens when they try to walk away from the refined foods that have come to form over 95% of a typical western diet.
So, what is the difference between a processed food addict and a person addicted to alcohol, or prescription drugs, or recreational drugs, or smoking? Very little. Drugs and alcohol may have a much more immediate and severe impact on the body, but over the long term, the difference in how our health and quality of life are impacted is really quite small. With food (and stress), we simply damage the body much more slowly.
- Stimulants & addictions
- Top 7 most commonly used stimulants
- Quit your addiction!
- The Dirty Dozen: What they are & why you should avoid them
- Soda, pop, & energy drinks
- The standard American diet: Fast-track to sickness
- Additives & chemicals in our food
- What are processed & refined foods
- Why stress is a silent killer
- Get off the diet merry-go-round
- Is your diet healthy? See how it stacks up
- Healthy food choices for children
- Healthy food choices for pets