Latest developments in causes and treatments



Control, the Second C of Addiction — Continued    

There is more, much more, to be said about control — or more precisely, about its absence. Inner conflict generates excess brain energy, which is automatically rechanneled to a frequently used drive, of which feeding is an excellent example. Initially, this ploy is adaptive, as Dr. Pretlow says in “Displacement Activity” (2019).

Soon, that displacement activity passes beyond the reach of conscious control, graduates to the rank of addiction, and turns destructive. The opposite of control is “innate, instinct-level, automatic,” in other words, compulsive (also known as the first C of addiction.)

In the book The Addict’s Loop, author Rene Eram speaks of the two roles present in codependency — “the powerful, Controller role, tyrant King/Queen on the throne and the broken, entitled and needy subservient Dependent role.” Both are needed, “[…] to create addiction and the internal self-rescue mission that temporally escapes the dictatorship of the two codependent roles by using substances.”

The author makes some interesting observations:

Basically, the codependent creates a “codependent relationship” with food and is self-medicating repressed pain from his or her childhood codependent matrix, that is being re-triggered in a present day relationship. I have witnessed many of my clients single and when they enter a codependent relationship gain a considerable amount of weight. When the relationship ends the codependent will usually go back to their normal weight.

Apparently, when a substance is in the picture, it takes the place of the other person in the codependent relationship, as the substance forges “a temporary union between the two roles that makes the addict feel connected, whole, above his or her pain and safe. Food addiction, in this scenario, is a relatively straightforward relationship between the two codependent roles. Eram writes,

With food addiction, the internal Controller role attempts to “enable” the internal Dependent role’s “entitlement” by controlling and over-feeding the Dependent role to feel numb, “high” whole and connected. Because both roles are in the addict’s unconscious there is no conscious measurement or damage control. The internal mechanism of the addict’s two unconscious codependent roles over-powers the ability to eat moderately.

“Control freak” is an ugly insult when used by those who try too hard to prove how cool and laid-back they are. But control is not a bad thing, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. The ability to control one’s temper is a very great advantage, as is the ability to control one’s spending or one’s bowels. This is just one more example of how, while there are right answers in life, they come with no guarantee that any answer can be universally right.

All this seems straightforward enough so far, and then we run into a weird wrinkle called anorexia, in which the “fix” is food deprivation. In being addicted to not eating, Eram says, both unconscious codependent roles work together to create havoc:

The addict’s unconscious Controller role attempts to control the food to receive the “high” and lift themselves out of his or her Dependent role’s “less than” and self-shaming default setting. The Dependent role’s “less than” message becomes, “I can’t gain weight or I’ll look ugly and unlovable.”… Remember, the inherited Dependent role believes it is the problem, broken and carries the pain.

The internal Controller fools itself into believing that it is all-powerful and perfectly able to rescue itself from the fear of being overweight. And it must, because the alternative, the release of control, means being overweight, abandoned, and unloved. The only cure is extensive therapy during which “uncovering the unconscious pain that is fueling the anorexic, would involve identifying who the Dependent and Controller roles were in the anorexic’s childhood codependent matrix.”

A person with anorexia is addicted to not eating, and as Dr. Vera Tarman says, “Anorexics resist food the same way as the drug addict resists withdrawal from their drug.” Just for clarity, once again…”the same way as the drug addict resists withdrawal from their drug.” For a heroin addict, the kick is in getting the heroin. For a person with anorexia, the kick is in not getting the food. It’s in the wanting, the longing, the obsessing, the fetishizing. When the food is eventually eaten, that’s not the reward — it’s the booby prize.

As Dr. Tarman says,

As the anorexic individual becomes more and more hungry, the dopamine high builds and builds. It’s important to note that as soon as the anorexic does eat, the high stops completely.

In this upside-down world, even the chemicals act weirdly. Normally, dopamine is associated with a positive outcome or happy ending. However, in this case, the body is cheated and receives nothing. But the subconscious says, “Don’t be so uptight. I’m getting my reward, which is to consume nothing. That’s what I wanted, that’s what I got, I win, so dish out the dopamine.” And the body does. How’s that for control? The anorexic is quite happy with the knowledge that their only power is in the choice to accept or reject food, because that power is absolute.

The anorexic also shares with the more mainstream type of addict an extraordinary degree of dominion over others. One hooked family member can ruin everyone’s day, week, or year. That is undeniable power! We noted in the past a communication from a reader who had been in fancy rehab establishments 26 times because while he loved his habit, he even more sincerely loved costing his father a ton of money.

Or this sort of thing happens: A sympathetic relative offers hospitality because you supposedly intend to clean up your act. Some cash gets misplaced, and your host hesitates to take a shower because that leaves you free to check their pockets. After a ring goes missing, the hopeful and helpful cousin is reluctant to even go out to work and leave you in their home. You can’t control your own self, or the hold that the drug has over you. But at least you are in control of something — your host’s life.

How does a deadly habit correlate with a person’s inordinate thirst for attention? Such a psychological malfunction can be behind addiction and can be cured with a lot of work and insight. Maybe the true addiction is simply to the spotlight, never mind why. The illumination might originate from the bright lights of a theater stage, or half a dozen surrounding police cars. It doesn’t much matter — as long as you are in command of other people’s attention.

Written by Pat Hartman. First published May 3, 2024.


“From my book The Addict’s Loop,”, August 26, 2019.
“Addictions specialist Dr. Vera Tarman describes anorexia,”, August 26, 2019.

Image Copyright: Arthur T. LaBar/CC BY 2.0 DEED


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *