Twenty-Something Science

Munch on this

Using salt and vinegar chips to explain addiction

June 15, 2012

Before SHERP I was a regular student who held regular hours. Now I’m a science news zombie: barely resting and constantly consuming RSS feeds, Google news and Twitter at a ravenous pace. As a consequence of my new lifestyle, I have also begun consuming potato chips. And not just any potato chips. Salt and vinegar chips. The kettle-cooked kind. Thick-cut, with lashings of salt and vinegar that get caught in the crinkles. You know, those chips.

The first chip is like a delightful punch in the mouth; my cheeks suck in and the back of my tongue tingles. This sensation is so unpleasant it’s pleasant. One chip and I’m hooked. I search the bag for an equally tangy encore but, unfortunately, that first chip’s hit is nowhere to be found.

So, I have been inspired to describe the difference between addiction, tolerance and dependence…using chips.

The fact is, what most people call addiction is actually a combination of these three terms.

Tolerance is when your body adapts to a substance so that you need more and more of the substance in order to generate the same physical reaction. That first chip is always the most intense. But after it, my mouth seems to adjust for the next chip – and each one afterward lacks the zing of the first. Likewise, when someone tries a drug for the first time – or sometimes the first few times – their reaction is usually as intense as it will ever be. That’s why people who have addictions are often described as “chasing a high”: they are literally trying to recapture that first thrill.

Dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably. When dependence is defined separately, it is described as physical dependence that occurs when your body can’t function normally without the addictive substance. Luckily for me, I don’t eat quite that many potato chips (and I really doubt it would happen no matter how many I ate). But for the sake of the analogy: if I started having chip withdrawals, that would be a common sign of dependence.

Addiction (when defined apart from dependence) is the behavioral side of this trifecta. People are thought to be addicted to something once they willingly take unreasonable risks to obtain and/or use it. It also considered addiction when a person uses a substance in order to satisfy their cravings rather than as intended – such as popping pain killers for the high, instead of for the pain-relief. In kettle-cooked chip terms, someone might consider me addicted if I stole a bag, or tripped up someone in the street to get theirs.

Given that I only experience a sensation similar to tolerance and it only lasts a short time, I am nowhere near addicted to salt and vinegar chips – not that I’ve ever even heard of anyone having a chip addiction (in the medical sense of the term). All the same, I think I should probably quit while I’m ahead and back away from the bag.

About the Author

Taylor Kubota

Taylor Kubota has always loved learning. She studied biological anthropology and health care/social issues at the University of California, San Diego, which allowed her to take classes in ten different departments. While an undergraduate, she also worked seven jobs, ranging from work in student affairs to a museum volunteer position. In the hopes of continuing (and sharing) her life of diverse learning, she is honored to be a part of SHERP’s 30th class. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website.



Ashley Taylor says:

This is delightful, and the photo is beautiful, too. Did you take that amazing photo–of yourself?

I did! I stacked my camera on copies of The Great Gatsby and Mona Lisa’s Pajamas, turned on the self timer and continuous burst, and sat across from it staring wild-eyed at a bowl of chips for about 40 shots (10 at a time). Not the most efficient method but it got the job done. (And thanks for calling it amazing.)

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