Food and Sex: Too much to handle

It is unfortunate that even as the divide between neurobiology and psychological behaviors decreases, there are still many behaviors that people do not believe to have a biological background. An example is addiction to sex/pornography. Although there is not currently a great deal of information concerning pornography addiction it is believed to work in the same way as other addictions. For example addiction to food has been shown to be linked to neurobiological and anatomical changes in the brain.

When thinking of addiction people automatically think of the various drugs people are usually addicted to: cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy, and heroine. But, addiction to food or sex can be as debilitating as addiction to drugs. For individuals addicted to sex they lose vital social interactions that contribute to their mental well-being. They also place themselves in dangerous scenarios, and at risk for contracting various sexually transmitted diseases, in addition, to placing the sexual act above work, paying or voluntary. The compulsion with the sexual act can be as socially debilitating as drugs even though the physical signs are not as transparent. A more visual compulsion pertains to food addiction which produces obese individuals who have many daily emotional and physical hardships.

The process at which all of these addictions are able to be rooted into a person’s behavior is linked in some fashion with the reward system pathway. In the simplest form the reward system pathway is essentially the interactions between the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) and the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) and the associated neural structures. The reward system is not 100% solidified, and addictive behavior stems from structures outside of these structures as well as structures within the pathway, specifically structures in the frontal lobe. Another neural correlation between the brain and addiction is the anatomical changes that occur as a result of addiction.

The brain is not static, neurons are constantly forming new connections and synapses due to learned behavior and actions that directly affects brain size/density. So one can assume that addictive behaviors can alter the addicts’ brain chemistry/anatomy. It has been thoroughly studied that cocaine and other drugs can cause volume loss in several areas of the brain including the central lobe (Hilton & Watts 2011). Behaviors such as over eating also causes multiple areas of volume lobes, especially in the frontal lobes, and areas associated with control and judgment, this was shown through a study conducted in 2006. The obesity study followed a VBM (voxel-based morphometry) protocol, where 1 mm cubes of brains were quantified and compared (Pannacciulli et al 2006). Another consistent factor is a DeltaFosB, a protein found over expressed in individuals suffering from addiction. Another study found that sexuality specifically increases DeltaFosB in the nucleus accumbens, as well as serving a role as a mediator in reward memory (Pitchers et al 2010).

When thinking about addiction food and sex, until recently, were not a part of the equation. But, essentially the neurochemistry occurring in our brains when drug addiction occurs is occurring with food and sex addictions. Addiction is persistently conducting in a behavior even after it passes a healthy limit to the point where it is physically, emotionally, and cognitively debilitating. The fact that compulsive behaviors such as over-eating are going past the social stigma into being diagnosed as a mental disorder shows that research and understanding of these compulsive behaviors is growing and expanding in the right direction.


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