Is It Possible to Be Addicted to Meat?

Meat: Many of us couldn't imagine life without it. For one, meat is a cultural staple. It brings people together"”just think about all the beloved social pastimes that revolve around the cooking of animal flesh: Barbeques, luaus, grilling burgers in the back yard, and roasting hot dogs `round the camp fire"”to name a few. 

But beyond being a great excuse to congregate, meat"”be it beef, poultry, pork, lamb, goat, venison, or that of more exotic beasts"”is also consumed on a regular, if not daily basis by the majority of people worldwide (it is estimated that vegetarians account for somewhere between five and 10 percent of the global population). 

Everyone loves a good pig roast,

The popularity of meat has to do with the fact that it tastes good, and is also a convenient source of protein"”which we need. But because protein can be found in other foods, meat isn't actually a survival necessity. So is it possible that people's love affair with meat goes beyond that of a mere affinity, and is"”at least for some"” in actuality an addiction? 

This question has, for a long time, been of personal interest to me. As an avid animal lover I've been conflicted about eating meat my entire life. On one hand, I feel terrible about the slaughter of living creatures, but on the other I can't seem to go more than a day without eating them"”particularly those of the red meat variety. And it's not just because I admittedly"”and very guiltily"”find animals to be delicious. Rather, it's because my cravings for it seem to be straight up physical. 

Now, this might make sense if I were a hemophiliac or anemic, but I'm not. Nevertheless, at one point in my life I felt it necessary to consume meat at every meal. This bizarre bloodlust was so disconcerting that several years ago, I tried giving it up altogether, to see whether my thrice-daily meat cravings were all in my head. As it turned out they were.

I lasted as a vegetarian for six months. Even though I was very diligent in making sure I got the required daily amount of iron and protein from non-animal sources, I eventually caved and went back to my meat eating ways. 

Outback Steakhouse is my happy place, Anastassia Smorodinskaya

I did so despite having learned I technically could function just fine with it"”meaning I didn't need to contribute to the death of my beloved animal friends. Nor was I necessarily tempted by the taste of a burger or filet mignon. Instead, I realized my insatiable desire for meat to be similar to that of any other vice"”and as I do with a number of other vices, I gave in.  

Today, I am a very much a carnivore. Having learned some good nutritional habits during my vegetarian stint, I no longer eat it at every meal. But when the cravings hit, I satisfy them. Just like smokers get cranky without nicotine, or heroin users experience dope sickness without a fix, I too feel very real withdrawal symptoms"”weakness, irritability, even dizziness"”when I go for too long without meat, even if my iron and protein levels are fine. 

My relationship with meat certainly feels like an addiction, and maybe some of those reading can relate. But can one really be addicted to meat, scientifically speaking? After all, unlike caffeine, sugar, cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics, meat isn't something that's commonly referred to as a habit. 

Well, apparently, it is"”the TLC show `Freaky Eaters' even profiled a young man whose burger and bacon habit is so out of control it's ruining his health and straining his relationships. But an addiction to meat actually isn't all that freaky. In fact, there's a legitimate explanation as to why exactly some of us get hooked. According to medical research, Hypoxanthine is the culprit. It's a naturally occurring chemical compound that's prevalent in meat and is the reason meat can be habit forming"”because Hypoxanthine is a stimulant. 

That's right! Eating meat is pleasurable not only because it tastes good, it also makes people feel good in the same way that coffee does. Meat and coffee might not seem like they'd have much in common, but in fact, Hypoxanthine is very similar to caffeine in its molecular makeup. In addition, meat also contains inosinic and guanylic acids, which, like Hypoxanthine, are stimulants as well. 

Like all uppers, this trio affects the central nervous system, which is why meat high can foster dependency and cause habitual carnivores to quite literally jones for their next hit of animal protein when these feel-good chemicals start to leave their system. 

Need further evidence of meat's addictive nature? How about the fact that studies have found the majority of people with drug and/or alcohol dependencies to also have a carnivorous diet, while vegetarians account for fewer cases of substance abuse. Some addiction experts even believe that children who are brought up not eating meat have a better chance of avoiding drug and alcohol problems later in life. 

If only he'd eaten less meat, Comedy Central 

While I don't think it's entirely fair to directly correlate a carnivorous childhood with being a junkie, the implication that people with addictive personalities are therefore susceptible to meat dependency as well makes sense. And, sure, perhaps in some cases being introduced to the "meat high" might cause certain people to chase after bigger and better highs down the road. 

I'm okay with calling meat a possible gateway drug"”though I also don't plan on depriving my future offspring of burgers and steaks. By no means is this article meant to advocate in favor of going vegetarian. Rather, it's simply intended to shed light on the science behind those sudden, inexplicable cravings for a nice, rare roast beef that many of us get. 

Of all the proven addictions out there, meat, after all, seems like a rather harmless one to have by comparison to gambling or crack. I mean, if meat is your only vice in life, I'd say you're doing pretty well. 

However, it is helpful for all the meat-lovers out there to at least be aware of the fact that they're not just big fans of the stuff"”they actually are hooked on it. And like anything else, meat should be consumed in moderation. That said, there's nothing wrong with a juicy filet mignon every couple of weeks as long as you make sure to keep your meaty highs purely recreational.

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