New York City, U.S. - For Nicole, a 19-year-old from New York City, life revolves around her addiction -- she eats deodorant, about a half a stick a day.
"When I wake up in the morning, I want deodorant; after each meal, I eat deodorant; when I get stressed out, I eat deodorant; in the middle of the night when I wake up out of a sleep, I want deodorant," Nicole said on a popular TV show, "My Strange Addiction."
Nicole said that she first started eating deodorant when she was 4 years old, but the habit escalated two years ago into a full-blown addiction.
She takes the cap, scoops a solid, waxy taste from the deodorant stick, and swallows it. She said she prefers certain "rich-tasting" brands over others.
Recently, Nicole discovered that she also likes deodorant spray. "The residue doesn't get stuck on my teeth and it absorbs into my mouth really fast," she said. "The first time my mouth got really numb, but I like the taste."
Nicole did not want to speak to press about her craving for deodorant, but there have clearly been health consequences, including stomach cramps, and her doctor has expressed concerns.
"It gets really sore and my mouth gets really dry," she says. "But at the same time my mouth is watering because I am craving it. I take deodorant everywhere I go."
Deodorant contains aluminum, which her doctor tells her can cause dementia, seizures or even death. But the physical worries are only part of the problem.
The so-calles 'process addictions' fall under the umbrella of impulse control disorders, and some may have elements of OCD, depression and anxiety. They can be as powerful as compulsive addictions to shopping and to gambling, he said.
"My brain tells me, 'You have to eat it,'" says Nicole. "I tried giving it up for a week but got really sick and I bad headaches. ... When I realize I'm out of deodorant I panic. My anxiety goes crazy and I get really aggravated. Without it, I'd be a totally different person."
Ingesting chemicals and preservatives over the long-term may lead to increased risk of cancer or other digestive disorders. These addicts often need a wake up call to be confronted with the consequences of their behavior which often helps them to create change.
When people turn to non-food materials, the condition is known as pica. Those eating drywall or toilet paper may have the craving based on a mineral deficiency. But sometimes the behavior then evolves into a way to self-soothe and manage anxiety.
Pica is seen more frequently in young children, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). An estimated 10 to 32 percent of children aged 1 to 6 have these behaviors. The name pica means "magpie" -- Latin for the bird who will eat anything.
Animal feces, clay, ice, paint, sand and hairballs have also been reported, according to NIH. To fit the diagnosis of pica, the patient must have ingested it for at least a month.
Pregnant women can sometimes have odd cravings for non-food objects, such as ashes, laundry starch, hair, coffee grounds, even cigarette butts.
In adulthood, these unusual cravings can be triggered by lack of certain nutrients, such as iron or zinc.
When pica is not caused by an iron deficiency, it is often "a disturbance in the thought process," according to Dr. G. Richard Locke, a gastrologist and motility expert from the Mayo Clinic.
Treatment for such eating behavior includes first addressing missing nutrients or exposure to toxins like lead. Then, specialists address behavioral and family issues.
As for Nicole, at the urging of her boyfriend, she has tried to cut back on eating deodorant. She replaces her craving with eating almonds, but she has not been able fully to give it up.
"It's really soft," she says. "It feels like it melts in my mouth. Deodorant really has a unique taste of its own."
But, according to psychologists, it's not easy to give up an addiction that's become part of your daily life."
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