Neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell suggests that the emotional aspect to addiction is more of a problem than the physical withdrawal:
For many addicts, the physical withdrawal is painful, but it’s the emotional effects of not taking drugs that are worse.
Most smack addicts have a frightening pre-drug history of trauma, anxiety and mood disorders. Drugs can be a way of coping with those emotional problems in the short-term.
Unfortunately, in the longer-term, persistent drug use maintains the conditions that keep the problems going. Even for those few that don’t have a difficult past or unstable emotions, life quickly become difficult after regular heroin use sets in.
If you can stay high, you’ll be less affected by the consequences of both long-standing problems and your chaotic lifestyle. If you stop, you feel the full massive force of that emotional distress.
As I’ve said before, food addiction is not as pervasive as some might imply (paging Dr. Hyman). That said, I think there is a continuum and I don’t think it’s a real stretch to see the parallels between what Dr. Bell describes and what some people may experience with food.
Ice cream isn’t heroin, but it’s legal, far more accessible and potentially just as useful as a coping mechanism.