food addiction
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An Addiction to Food?

Many addicts and alcoholics are able to stop their drug use and drinking. This period of sobriety has often been called “recovery.” But, there is more than one type of addiction and it the addiction isn’t always one you can help. It isn’t uncommon when addicts and alcoholics begin their journey in recovery from drugs and alcohol that they turn to food. And this, while it is safer, can still become an addiction. There is such a thing as an addiction to food.

Food Addiction

Ice cream and other high-calorie foods would seem to have little in common with cocaine, but according to studies, in some people’s brains, refined foods can elicit cravings and trigger responses similar to those caused by addictive drugs.

The International Journal of Eating Disorders published a study that conducted research on the theory that there is, in fact, such a thing as food addiction:

“Excessive food consumption and its relation to obesity and binge eating represents a pressing clinical and public health concern. A growing body of the literature has found a number of similarities linking excess food consumption with addiction. First, animal models have found that rats given access to sugar, fat, or processed foods exhibit altered reward-related neural mechanisms that are implicated in addictive behaviors. Further, these rats exhibit behavioral hallmarks of addiction, such as tolerance, withdrawal, binge consumption, and continued use despite the receipt of negative consequences (i.e., electric shocks). In humans, obesity and substance dependence have both been linked to similar neural markers, such as reduced DRD2 receptors, and food and drug cravings are also associated with similar patterns of dopamine-related neural activation. Finally, many of the behavioral indicators of addiction also appear to be common in problematic eating behavior, such as loss of control, continued use despite negative consequences, and an inability to cut down problematic use.”

There is compelling evidence in the scientific community that suggests that food addiction is real, and alive and well in thousands of people.

“It’s a combination of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition,” Gene-Jack Wang says. “The ability to use willpower goes offline.”

Women whose relationship to food somewhat resembles a dependence or addiction, where they often lose control how much they eat, and they anticipate food the same way a drug addict would anticipate getting high of drugs. These women who are “addicted” to food saw pictures of a chocolate milk shake, made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream, they displayed increased activity in the same way that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol experience cravings for the substance. When presented with the same milk shake, women who don’t feel addicted to food showed less activity in those areas in the brain.

So what does this mean for people we already know are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Well, it could mean that those who have been addicted to drugs or alcohol can easily transition their original addiction into an addiction to food. Addiction to food can be dangerous. With an addiction to food, overeating and other problem eating behaviors are common. This is because those addicted to food receive the same amount of “reward” as someone who is taking drugs.

A study performed by several scientists, which was published in the journal Medical Hypotheses summarizes the food addiction epidemic consuming the United States and other westernized countries:

“Overeating in industrial societies is a significant problem, linked to an increasing incidence of overweight and obesity, and the resultant adverse health consequences. We advance the hypothesis that a possible explanation for overeating is that processed foods with high concentrations of sugar and other refined sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, fat, salt, and caffeine are addictive substances. Therefore, many people lose control over their ability to regulate their consumption of such foods. The loss of control over these foods could account for the global epidemic of obesity and other metabolic disorders. We assert that overeating can be described as an addiction to refined foods that conforms to the DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorders. To examine the hypothesis, we relied on experience with self-identified refined foods addicts, as well as critical reading of the literature on obesity, eating behavior, and drug addiction. Reports by self-identified food addicts illustrate behaviors that conform to the 7 DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorders. The literature also supports the use of the DSM-IV criteria to describe overeating as a substance use disorder. The observational and empirical data strengthen the hypothesis that certain refined food consumption behaviors meet the criteria for substance use disorders, not unlike tobacco and alcohol. This hypothesis could lead to a new diagnostic category, as well as therapeutic approaches to changing overeating behaviors.”

Food can become a replacement drug

Sometimes if the overeating gets out of hand and the weight starts packing on, those who are in recovery will try to do something about their sudden weight gain. Often times an addiction to food can easily lead those who are in recovery to have an eating disorder. In fact, it could be considered common. Those who eat too much may end up purging or even restricting afterward. This is the beginning of an eating disorder if there wasn’t one present before the food addiction.

An addiction to food is most common with eating processed, refined, or otherwise unhealthy foods.The junk foods that are most likely to trigger cravings may be a large part of the problem. Over the past several decades, many foods have become less natural and more heavily refined, as sugars and fats have been added to make them tastier and more satisfying, says Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., a senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York, who studies the brain’s role in obesity and eating disorders.

There are Twelve step groups called Food Addiction Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, and many other recovery groups dedicated to those who are suffering from a food addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with any type of addiction, contact us today at Drug Treatment Center Finder. You don’t have to fight addiction alone.