On Feb. 1, 2016, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA) released a report announcing the organization’s intent to focus on issues beyond substance abuse to more behavioral addictions — specifically, the often murky realm of food addictions.
Although not yet a recognizable disorder, according to the Diagnostic Statistical manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), food addiction and drug addiction share many of the same symptoms: dangerously intense cravings, role obligation avoidance, creation of interpersonal issues, and health risks. People suffering from food addiction also report suffering from hangover-like symptoms after food binges.
The Daily Beast interviewed Dr. Julie Friedman, assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who commented on how food addiction is not treated as seriously as other substance abuse issues are. “If you go to your primary care doctor and say, ‘I’m binging three to four times per week,’ they’ll tell you to go to Weight Watchers,” says Friedman.
The report from the NCASA perhaps signals the dawning of a new era when it comes to addressing food-related addiction. It was prompted by the rising interest in the obesity epidemic and unhealthy eating habits within the scientific and medical community.
Called Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction: A Science-Based Approach to Policy, Practice and Research , the report aims to apply the knowledge and experience gained from extensive research and practice treating substance abuse to preventing, treating and controlling food addiction. Considering their many similarities when it comes to their expressions, the idea is that there is crossover value in approach.
Education and research in this largely unexplored field could reduce the existing stigma and help to re-frame public perception of food addiction from a moral failure or lack of willpower to a real, treatable medical condition.
Substance abuse and food addiction share more than just symptoms and possible treatment methods. Both engage the brain’s reward system and are considered coping mechanisms. In the heavily ad-saturated world of today, where salty and sugary treats are posted on billboards and featured on commercials, the only mystery is why a scientific inquiry into food addictions is so long overdue.
As more and more information comes out about food addiction, researchers can study the correlations between these different compulsive behaviors, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, orthorexia, and other eating disorders not specified (ED-NOS). For instance, the link between mental illness and substance abuse is well-established; those with mental illnesses have twice the risk for addiction compared with the rest of the general population, and 20% of people with mental illnesses also have substance abuse problems.