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I recently watched a testimony of a man who reports the results of a 40-day water/juice fast (no food). The individual claims to have been addicted to drugs for 22 years, including marijuana, cocaine, mushrooms, LSD, ecstasy, prescription pain pills and alcohol. He went cold turkey, abstaining from both food and addictive substances during the 40-day fast. After the fast, he reports complete freedom and no relapses.

This particular case raised my interest in the potential benefits of fasting in the addiction recovery arena. After a quick search I found this site which claims that:

Fasting is by far the most sophisticated willpower workout available. If you get good at fasting, you can learn to control every other aspect of your life. If you get good at fasting, you can overcome any addiction, not matter how deeply imbedded. Medically, fasting has been found to rapidly dissipate the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.

Is it true that any addiction can be overcome with the skills learnt by fasting? Are there studies on the effectiveness of fasting for overcoming substance addictions or any other addiction for that matter?

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    $\begingroup$ For one thing, psilocybin/psilocin and LSD are generally considered to be non-addictive substances, which makes me question this anecdote. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Nov 23 '20 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ AliceD: You're of course right about psilocybin/LSD not being addictive substances. However, from my experience with addiction patients, some people can have a mixed substance misuse pattern, in which there can be some compulsive use also of those drugs. So for me, that doesn't make the anecdote questionable. But I wonder if the OP has considered doing a google or pubmed search before asking the question here? $\endgroup$
    – JonB
    Nov 23 '20 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would not take nearly as much effort to find people who successfully abstained from abusing drugs for 40 days and kept up without relapses afterwards, without any additional food fast. That said, cold-turkey withdrawal for alcohol for someone who consumes at a high level can be very dangerous and would not be medically advisable. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 23 '20 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder what the morbidity and mortality rates are for long-term fasting? If overcoming addiction were as simple, inexpensive, and efficacious as fasting, it could be expected that this would be overwhelmingly reported. A two-minute google scholar search showed nothing. Another way to look at this is to hypothesise that anyone with sufficient motivation to fast for 40 days would also have sufficient motivation to overcome other forms of addiction. $\endgroup$
    – Tony Mobbs
    Nov 23 '20 at 19:29
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Is it true that any addiction can be overcome with the skills learnt by fasting?

Pherhaps for some people, but different people have different levels of craving for food and other pleasureable substances. And drugs may further influence this

Substances like heroin may compete with food in the brain activating reward pathways and increasing dopamine receptor’ availability, thus suppressing the appetite and leading to lower body weight.

As a personal anecdote, i can easily water fast for many days while i find going a full day without cannabis or other addictive substances to be extremely challenging, so this is definitely not true for all people. Drug addicts tend to be skinnier than the general populations, consume less food and have lower appetite

In the short term, opiates cause anorexia, decreased food consumption, and reduced gastrointestinal motility, all leading to malnutrition and increased risk of infections in the long term.

And stimulant users such as meth addicts can easily go days without eating due from simply being too focused on other things to even think about food.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer provides some good context. Fasting while intoxicated or after substance use does not always require self-control. $\endgroup$
    – P.P.
    Jun 26 at 15:34
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Yes as it focuses the mind on a more primary need. So instead of seeking escapism and distraction of addictions, one becomes overwhelmingly obsessed with the idea of eating. This can overshadow the need to fulfill an addictive behavior and if maintained long enough (say a couple of weeks) can be enough to detach from the behavior as the self-reinforcing cycle is broken. Hunger is really powerful.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. Please visit our site tour. There are a lot of bold claims in your answer without corroborated evidence. We work differently to many SE sites, where we have a strict policy that all answers should be backed up with reliable references so that the answer can be independently verified, regardless of the reader's/answerer's background. If you still have trouble with this, feel free to visit the help center or Psychology & Neuroscience Meta. Unreferenced claims can be challenged and lead to deletion of your answer. $\endgroup$ Jun 25 at 11:41

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