Food and Drug Addictions are Very Similar

Food addicts share problems with drug addicts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Ever wonder why you can’t stop yourself from indulging in food? You might have a food addiction. There has never been a way of diagnosing or even treating food dependence — until recently.

A new study finds that food addiction is very similar to drug addiction except that instead of being strongly attached to an illicit substance or alcohol, food addicts are stuck on food — a necessity of life.

"If you can't stop eating, ask your therapist if you have a food addiction."

Over the years, there has been a great deal of discussion, debate and controversy about whether or not food addiction actually exists. Caroline Davis, Ph.D., from York University in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues have found that there is indeed a mental health condition that’s described as food addiction.

A questionnaire very similar to one a person with a substance-abuse problem would complete was administered to obese men and women. The only difference was that the word “food” was substituted for the word “drug.”

The team identified seven symptoms that are associated with addiction:

  • Withdrawal
  • Tolerance
  • Excessive use
  • Spending lots of time to obtain the substance — in this case, going out of your way to get a specific food
  • Continued use despite problems associated with the behavior
  • Giving up social, occupational or recreational activities
  • Strong desire to cut down, but can't

The participants were grouped into two categories after completing the survey: food addicts and non-addicts.

The researchers found that the group labeled “food addicts” had mental health problems like depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and even binge-eating disorder. They seemed to be more sensitive to foods and were more likely to use foods as a self-soothing tool, much as a drug abuser uses drugs.

Food and drug addicts are very similar in the way they think and feel — they just abuse different substances. This research has opened a new door to possible treatments for people who struggle with weight or overeating.

The study will be presented at the soon to come annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, which is an organization who focuses their research on foods and fluids and associated processes that go along with the substances.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 14, 2011
Last Updated:
July 19, 2011