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Inpatient Substance Abuse and Pica

Pica is one of the most bizarre and misunderstood addictions in the world today. It is characterized by the desire or compulsion to eat non-food substances, including chalk, dirt, and even cigarette ashes. Though it is relatively rare among the general population, it does affect some people who attend inpatient substance abuse treatment for drugs. In order to better understand the nature of addiction and mental illness, addicts and laypeople alike ought to learn more about pica.

Understanding Pica

Pica can occur for a number of genetic and environmental reasons. It’s most often seen in children and women, and pregnant women are especially likely to be affected. Researchers are unsure of the exact reasons why people develop these appetites, but the condition may be related to nutrient deficiencies. People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder are also at increased risk.

While some people sustain little or no physical harm from pica, it can easily lead to long-term health problems. Most sufferers are compelled to eat non-nutritive items several times per day, and they may even consume harmful chemicals such as hand soap, laundry detergent, and even paint. This can lead to severe gastrointestinal stress, and some people have even gotten lead poisoning. Overall, addicts with pica need fast and effective treatment to avoid permanent bodily harm.

Non-food Substances

Individual pica victims become obsessed with small sets of items, but the condition compels sufferers at large to consume a wide variety of substances. They include:

*Embers and ashes: People who crave cigarette ashes often suffer from anemia – a condition characterized by low iron levels in the blood. Eating ashes can cause severe stomach problems and even cancer.
*Chalk: Chalk addiction primarily affects children, though it can also afflict adults. Chalk itself is relatively harmless, but massive consumption can still cause health problems. Also, many brands of chalk contain small amounts of metal, animal droppings, and other contaminants.
*Dirt: Dirt-eating is actually accepted practice in some cultures, but people with pica take the habit to unhealthy extremes. Consumption exposes people to worms and other parasites, as well as fertilizers and other industrial chemical pollutants.
*Cleaning products: Soap tastes bitter and disgusting to most people, but some pica sufferers find it to be sweet, salty, and pleasant. This phenomenon may be caused by nutrient deficiencies, but it also seen in people who obsess over cleanliness. Small amounts aren’t usually harmful, but large quantities can cause severe metabolic damage.

Pica and Drug Addiction

Some studies have shown that people with pica disorders are also more prone to substance abuse. Those who have affinities or aversions to certain tastes may also be more likely to take extreme pleasure in drug consumption. Small children who eat dirt are at particularly high risk of developing drug problems later in life.

However, mental illness is the main link between pica and addiction. Most psychologists view pica as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder – a condition which often leads people to abuse drugs. The same manic and depressive episodes which cause people to eat dirt, glass, and other non-foods can also compel them to consume alcohol or narcotics.

If you’re an addict with pica or any other mental illness, don’t lose hope. Inpatient substance abuse clinics can diagnose and treat a wide variety of co-occurring conditions, ensuring your ability to stay happy, clear-headed, and sober. Don’t wait another minute – call the number at the top of your screen today. Our dedicated counselors are standing by around the clock to help you get started on your recovery.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More