Food Addiction Is Real
What is addiction?
First, we need to look at what addiction is and how it is diagnosed to have a better understanding of food addiction.
In 2011 the American Society of Addiction Medicine proposed a new definition of addiction. They said, “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry…This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
Addiction can be diagnosed when certain criteria are met. These criteria are set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, known to most as the DSM-5. In it, 11 basic conditions must be met for a clinical diagnosis to be made. These are:
1. Consuming more of substance or for longer than intended.
2. Being unable to decrease or limit substance use.
3. Spending a significant amount of time acquiring, using, or recovering from a substance.
4. Craving or having a powerful urge to use it.
5. Being unable to fulfill obligations because of a substance.
6. Continually using a substance despite social or interpersonal problems.
7. Giving up or reducing social, occupational, or recreational activities due to substance use.
8. Continually using a substance even though it is physically dangerous.
9. Continually using a substance despite physical or psychological problems.
10. Tolerance. Needing more to feel the same effect.
11. Withdrawal. Having physical and psychological symptoms when the substance is not consumed.
Can Food Fit These Criteria?
As you may have already concluded while reading this food can easily fit these criteria. Food addiction only arises when a combination of factors arises. One factor that seems to be a major part of the discussion is obesity.
A paper published in the Nutrition Journal titled Food addiction as a new piece of the obesity framework focuses on the link between obesity and food addiction.
They said, “In recent years, there has been an increase in scientific evidence showing both neurobiological and behavioral relationships between drugs and food intake… certain foods, mainly highly palatable foods, have addictive properties. Also, exposure to food and drugs of abuse have shown similar responses in the dopaminergic and opioid systems. These similarities between food and drugs have given rise to the hypothesis of food addiction.”
The underlying cause
The dopaminergic system is used for reward processing and motivating behavior. When we do something that helps us survive, we get a burst of dopamine. That way we learn to repeat the behavior. That is why sex feels so good and you feel happy once you are full.
Problems arise once people continue eating, even though their energy requirements have been met. When people continually chase the dopaminergic surge as a way of coping this becomes an especially dangerous problem. Especially when they are dealing with comorbidity of some sort. Maybe they are obese or have type 1 diabetes and continue to eat despite the horrible complications.
Basic research using animal and human models has shown that certain foods, mainly those high in fat, sugar, and that are calorie-dense, have addictive properties. Researchers have shown that exposure to food and drugs of abuse elicit similar responses in the dopaminergic and opioid systems. These similarities between food and drugs have given rise to the hypothesis of food addiction.
In short, food addiction is real and with over 600 million adults being obese worldwide (World Health Organization estimate) it is quickly becoming a major health concern.