Debate over Food Addiction (Part III)

Person eating sandwich

A Diagnosis?

Twice previously, we have presented information from the scientific literature supporting the concept of food addiction. As mentioned before, it is important to keep in mind that the information provided reflects only one perspective; that is, the viewpoint of those who believe it would be beneficial to include food addiction as a possible diagnosis.

Cues and Cravings

Behavioral similarities in drug and food addiction have been supported by research. Back in 2009, The Journal of Nutrition presented a study that supported the idea that food and drug cravings may also share a learning component and can be understood by conditioning effects. A brief explanation is that individuals can become conditioned to cues in the environment and these environmental cues that are associated with drug use will bring about cravings and urges, even in the absence of a physiological drive (i.e., after going through withdrawal).

Similarities to Drug Addiction

Environmental cues have also been proven to play a critical role in food cravings and subsequent ingestion. Simply the sight or smell of a preferred food or the act of walking or driving past a favorite restaurant can be enough to produce a strong urge to eat and might possibly end in a binge. It has also been suggested that individuals who tend to binge, similar to those who present a drug addiction, commonly experience depression and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, many learn to use substances to self-medicate in response to these emotionally negative situations. This learned coping strategy, in conjunction with the aforementioned downregulation of the dopaminergic reward system, could explain why individuals who binge on food show a transition towards addiction that is similar to what is observed in those who abuse drugs.

Preventing a Negative State

Researchers from a study published in the Journal of Physiology Behavior in July, 2011 stated, “[a]s individuals progress toward the compulsive intake of palatable foods, the acute rewarding value of food items may hold less importance for motivating additional intake than does preventing or ameliorating negative states (e.g., anxiety, depression, irritability, and possibly even somatic withdrawal symptoms) that are experienced when such preferred foods are not available or when environments are adverse.”

The Idea of Food Addiction

The three discussions of food addiction found in this blog only present preliminary findings suggesting similarities between drug addiction and food addiction that have been used to support the idea of food addiction. Have you known anyone who appeared to have a food addiction? It is quite possible that you, yourself, might have experienced some of the symptoms indicated here to be associated with a food addiction. Do you believe food addiction should be a diagnosis and included in the DSM?



Parylak, S.L., Koob, G.F & Zorrilla, E.P. (2011). The dark side of food addiction. Journal of Physiological Behavior, 104, 146-156.

Pelchat, M.L. (2009). Food addiction in humans. Journal of Nutrition, 139, 620-622.