Is Food Addiction Relevant to Substance Addiction

Is Food Addiction Relevant to Substance AddictionIs Food Addiction Relevant to Substance Addiction

Is Food Addiction Relevant to Substance Addiction

Obesity has become a global epidemic that has effected not only the populations overall quality of life, but as also impacted international economies (Avena, Gold, Kroll, & Gold, 2012). The prevalence of the United States Obesity Rate has jump significantly from 9 out of the 50 States in 2004 to 36 States in 2010, with a projected trend that 86.3% of Americans will be considered overweight or obese by 2030 (Avena et al., 2012). These rates are astonishing and lead to the notion that food addiction may be the cause of the obesity rate increasing so significantly. Other researcher argue that food addiction is not a true addiction because of the lack of relevancy associated with the addiction model (Ziauddeen & Fletcher, 2013). However, it has been suggested that food addictions effects the behavior of the brain similarly to substance abuse (Avena et al., 2012). Based on researching showing a link between food addiction and substance addition, factors such as dopamine and neurotransmitters show correlation between food addiction and substance abuse.

Addiction and Relevancy to Food Addiction

Addiction contains many origins and factors, but is most frequently associated to habit forming substances like illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco and their behavior patterns (Straub, 2014). These patterns are characterized patters that are related to physical dependence, but psychological dependence, as well as tolerance level (Straub, 2014). An example of psychological dependence would be the biochemical changes in the brain caused by various additive substances. This differs from physical dependence because physical dependence relates to the bodies biological effects of an addictive substance (Straub, 2014). Neurotransmitters play a role in addiction, with its major role being dopamine, which is a chemical messenger similar to adrenaline and effects ones neural process that is involved with controlling ones, emotions, and feelings of pleasure and pain (Straub, 2014). It has been theorized that dopamine plays a role in addiction. An example of how dopamine relates to addiction is how the drug “cocaine produces a stimulating effect by binding to proteins that normally transport dopamine” (Straub, 2014 p. 322). This then blocks its reuptake, thus not allow the dopamine to absorb, causing the dopamine to remain to the stimulant neurons, which can increase the feeling of pleasure and excitement (Straub, 2014). The aforementioned examples relate and often lead to substance dependence, which has been categorized as a clinical term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (Lim, 2012).

Thus far, food addiction has not been categorized in the DSM; therefore, food addiction does not contain a clinical definition (Lim, 2012). However, the same dopamine affects can occur when certain foods enter the body (Lim, 2012). In fact, according to Doctor Lim if one does not have adequate dopamine levels, then it can cause death by starvation due to dopamine levels attributing to one’s desire eat. Studies have also shown that people who are considered obese also contain fewer dopamine receptors, which is also similar to those who are addicted to alcohol or cocaine (Lim, 2012). Studies have shown that sugar foods can also be hypothesized as being an addictive component to food. Research shown sugar can lead to increased food intake and that when sugar is abruptly taken away from ones diet can show a decrease in dopamine levels (Lim, 2012).

Factors Related to Food Addiction

 New research suggests a correlation between excessive food intake and drug addiction and implies that when palatable foods are consumed the same brain circuitry portions in the same regions activate in the same way that drugs do (Avena et al., 2012). The regions of the brain that is most impacted is also involved with encoding the motivation to certain responses to food cues. These areas of the brain that activate are the amygdala anterior cingulate cortex, and the orbital frontal cortex (Avena et al., 2012). These same areas have also been shown to activate during drug use and contain a similar scale and correlation to food addiction.

When it comes to craving, 95% of foods people crave are high in calorie dense fat (Lim, 2012). When food that is high in calorie dense fat, people tend to overeat these foods, which can results in the food being stored in the body as fat (Lim, 2012). This then increases the crave which results to individuals consuming more and more high caloric foods that can inevitably lead to a more frequent consumption of high caloric feeds. This is similar to substance abuse because the more the substance is used, the higher chance the more frequent use occurs.


Food addiction is technically not considered a disorder per the DSM; however, the neurotransmitters, especially when dopamine is involved plays a major role in addiction and shows a correlation between food addiction and substance addiction. An increase in dopamine has been linked to feelings of pleasure which can lead to addiction. This increase creates the feeling of award, which all major drugs and other forms of pleasurable behaviors increase in the same way, including eating (Straub, 2014). The obesity rate is drastically increasing, which is causing an increase in research to see if there is in fact a correlation between food addiction and substance addition. One argument that implies that food addiction and substance addiction are not related is the fact that food consumption is for survival and substance use is not (Avena, et al., 2012). Although the concept and research showing a correlation between food addiction and substance addiction is relatively young, research has been showing a plausibility between the two, especially how dopamine and neurotransmitters work almost identically between the two.            


Avena, N. M., Gold, J. A., Kroll, C., & Gold, M. S. (2012). Further developments in the neurobiology of food and addiction: Update on the state of the science. Nutrition, 28(4), 341-343. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2011.11.002

Lim, D. (2012). Food & Addiction: Can Some Foods Hijack the Brain? (cover story). Nutrition Action Health Letter, 39(4), 3-7.

Straub, R. O. (2014). Health psychology: A biopsychosocial approach (4th ed.). New York, NY:Worth Publishers.

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