New York City Woman Addicted to Eating Deodorant

Doctors say people can be addicted to the strangest things: feces, hair, dirt.

ByABC News
March 1, 2013, 1:25 PM

March 4, 2012— -- 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 TLC show that aired recently, "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 on the show. "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.

"Nicole has a process addiction," according to Mike Dow, author of "Diet Rehab" and TLC's psychologist consultant.

"Many of them fall under the umbrella of impulse control disorders, and some may have elements of OCD, depression and anxiety," he said. "There's no diagnostic billing code for many of these strange addictions."

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."

Dow said eating deodorant isn't going to kill Nicole "as fast as heroin."

"But ingesting chemicals and preservatives over the long-term may lead to increased risk of cancer or other digestive disorders," he said. "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," said Dow.

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.

In its current series, "My Strange Addiction" also highlights a woman so addicted to vapor rub that she goes through more than 30 jars, inhalers and patches every week. Another woman eats cat fur, grooming her pet with her own tongue.

In 2011, the series featured Adele Edwards, who ate the inside of sofa cushions, chomping down the foam about 15 times a day.

"I unzip the cushions and snack on the foam inside," she said. "And once I start I just can't stop. But now doctors have told me that if I carry on, my addiction will kill me."