From Addict to Neuroscientist

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Susan’s battle with the role of food in her life took her down a dark path of drug addiction. But she’s conquered her demons and earned a Ph.D.!

“I think I had a food problem long before I knew I had a food problem,” Susan reflects. Even as a child, food was her companion, her comfort, and her excitement. Her weight climbed into her teen years – then, “When I was 14, I tried my first drug. It was psychedelic mushrooms.” It was a life-changing moment. “I felt free, I felt alive – and when I woke up the next morning and stepped on the scale, I’d lost seven pounds in that night.”

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Susan began doing drugs to stay thin. When she discovered crystal meth at age 16, her habit spiraled out of control. She would stay awake as long as a week at a time, experiencing hallucinations and psychosis. She dropped out of high school and began doing cocaine and then crack cocaine. “During that time, I lost everything,” she recalls. “I became a call girl, I started sleeping on the streets. It was a dark, scary time.”

The crisis point came when Susan had just turned 20. She was lying in a crack house, she says, and “I knew right then that if I didn’t get up and get out of there right then, that was all I was ever going to be.” She went to a 12-step program. “I haven’t had a drink or a drug in 22 and a half years.”

But Susan replaced her drug addiction with a food addiction. “So I stopped doing the drugs and that was great, but I got fat really fast. I gained 40 or 50 pounds almost immediately,” she tells The Doctors. Her binges were so severe that she ruptured her stomach lining. “I knew that if I didn’t tackle my food addiction the way I tackled my drug addiction, I was never going to live the life I was meant to live.”

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Now Susan holds a doctorate in brain and cognitive sciences. “Yeah, I pass for normal now!” she laughs. And she’s written a book titled “Bright Line Eating,” about her approach to coping with food addiction.

Susan explains that she needs to abstain completely from certain foods, just as addicts must go cold turkey on drugs. “Bright lines are clear, unambiguous boundaries that you just don’t cross. I need a bright line for sugar and flour – I don’t eat them, ever, and that’s how I’ve been able to maintain a slender weight for over 14 years.”

The issues Susan has confronted affect many Americans. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction please call the confidential and free National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or visit their website.

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