Dual-Diagnosis Treatment: Food Addiction

Most individuals associate addiction with alcohol and drug abuse; however, there are many other things to which an individual can become mentally, emotionally, and physically dependent with a number being behaviors rather than chemical substances. In fact, behavioral addictions are often considered much more difficult to detect and, consequently, more of a “silent killer” since many behavioral addictions aren’t accompanied by some of the more overtly obvious signs of alcohol and drug addiction.

While behavioral addictions are often distinguished from chemical dependencies for one reason or another, the fact remains that there are many more similarities between behavioral addictions and chemical dependency than there are differences, especially when it comes to the effect that becoming dependent on these behaviors and substances can have on the brain.

Of the many behavioral addictions that exist, the ones that are most well-known and common include sex addiction, gambling addiction, exercise addiction, and food addiction. Although each represents its own very specific set of risks and effects, food addiction treatment is sometimes controversial and is sometimes considered the most widespread. Despite its similarities to alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction also bears a striking resemblance to other conditions, particularly psychological disorders, which can make it a confusing concept to some.

This is further compounded by the tendency for food addiction to existing in individuals who suffer from a secondary diagnosis. And with its resemblance to other conditions combined with the tendency to occur alongside other diagnoses, many individuals have questioned which is the most effective form of treatment for an addiction to food or eating.

As such, the following is a concise discussion of food addiction treatment from a dual-diagnosis perspective, which will include an overview of what food addiction is and how it’s distinct from similar conditions as well as the comorbid conditions with which food addiction has been found to frequently occur.

Is Food Addiction a Real Thing?

To one level or another, virtually all of us are familiar with eating disorders. Terms like anorexia and bulimia have entered the general English lexicon and can be heard in a casual conversation on a semi-regular, somewhat infrequent basis. However, since addiction has reached epidemic levels at both a national and global scale, there has been renewed interest in either proving or disproving food addiction as being an actual addiction instead of an eating disorder.

On the surface, food addiction would seem to resemble some condition involving an individual being unable to control the impulses that urge them to continue to eat, even in instances when they are not actually hungry such as with compulsive overeating. Yet a more in-depth comparison serves to actually differentiate food addiction from conditions involving unhealthy eating habits.

The development of an eating disorder is usually initiated by a lack of self-esteem, negative self-image, body dysmorphia, and similar catalysts that involve an unhealthy obsession with—or inaccurate perception of—one’s body and physical appearance. As such, the problematic eating behavior of an individual with an eating disorder tends to be employed due to the effects that the problematic behavior will have on one’s appearance, which suggests that the unhealthy eating behavior is the individual’s tool for changing what he or she dislikes about his or her body.

In contrast, food addiction differs from an eating disorder in that the addiction doesn’t typically develop due to low self-esteem and a negative perception of one’s appearance; in fact, the low self-esteem and poor body image occur over the course of one’s food addiction as a result of weight gained.

Instead, food addiction more closely resembles alcoholism and drug addiction in that individuals become unable to control their eating behavior despite negative consequences, develop a tolerance that requires more and more food to achieve the same level of satisfaction, experience a variety of negative effects due to the obsession with food and eating, and seem to spend a lot of their time seeking and consuming food.

Comorbidity in Those Suffering from Food Addiction

Like many forms of behavioral addiction, food addiction is often classified as an impulse control disorder. As such, it often shares symptoms with numerous other mental and emotional conditions with there being a large number of instances in which an individual in need of food addiction treatment also suffers from a comorbid, or co-occurring, diagnosis. In other words, many of the behavioral and psychological traits of an individual who suffers from food addiction are also symptoms of other disorders.

Although the exact nature of the relationship between food addiction and comorbid conditions can vary—it’s often unclear whether the addiction caused or was caused by the comorbid disorder or whether the two diagnoses developed simultaneously and independently—there is often some degree of connection between food addiction and the comorbid diagnoses that are most common. As such, it’s important to be aware of the disorders that are the most common to occur alongside food addiction so that they can be addressed in a dual diagnosis addiction treatment program.

Food Addiction Treatment with Other Addictions

As mentioned above, despite the superficial similarities between food addiction and certain eating disorders, addiction to food has been determined to work in essentially the same way as alcoholism and drug addiction. Research has broken down chemical dependency and addiction into three phases:

  • The first phase involves intoxication via a binge as a means of achieving the rewarding properties and feelings of pleasure.
  • The second phase is characterized by the onset of withdrawal as the rewarding effects of the binge subside.
  • The third phase involves becoming preoccupied with and anticipating obtaining more of the substance.

Similarly, individuals suffering from food addiction display these same phases. However, since the effects of a food binge trigger nearly identical neurological responses as alcohol and drug abuse, those who need food addiction treatment have been found to have a high instance of developing other addictions, particularly to alcohol and drugs.

Food Addiction & Emotional or Behavioral Disorders

With food addiction being so closely associated to impulse control problems, many conditions that involve similar impulse control issues are commonly seen alongside a food addiction diagnosis. For instance, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has shown an elevated rate of comorbidity among individuals suffering from food addiction or an eating disorder, which is thought to be intricately linked to the addiction and a likely contributor for one’s compulsion to eat.

Additionally, there have been studies that have implicated the abnormal production of neurotransmitters like serotonin in both food addiction as well as in depression and anxiety, which is thought to be the reason why as many as half or more of all individuals who suffer from food addiction also meet the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression.

Even bipolar disorder has been closely linked to the development of food addiction though the relationship between the two is not thought to be reciprocal. Again, many of the driving factors that result in the necessity for food addiction treatment with a comorbid affliction involve issues pertaining to self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. As such, dual-diagnosis support for such individuals often emphasizes counseling, psychotherapy, and even medications like SSRIs and SNRIs if necessary to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Make Your Way to a Happy, Healthy Life with Drug Treatment Center Finder

Addiction to food, alcohol, drugs and many other types of addiction are frequently implicated in the development of a number of other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. This illustrates the sheer complexity of addiction and the tendency for one psychological disease or disorder to be intricately related to or overlap with others.

If you or someone you love is in need of food addiction treatment or treatment from any other addiction, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. Call us today at 855-619-8070 to begin the journey to a better life with a free consultation and assessment with one of our experienced recovery specialists.

Staff Writer :