When Food Becomes an Addiction

As an experienced addiction medicine practitioner, consultant, and advocate, Dr. William Leach of Florida has treated individuals struggling with a variety of addictions. Dr. William Leach, a Diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine, treats food addiction, which can be just as serious as drug or alcohol addiction.

Widely accepted by the medical profession, the concept of an addiction to food has recently become more widely accepted by the general public. Food addiction occurs in the same manner as other more extensively publicized addictions such as drug and alcohol dependence. Appealing foods, such as those high in sugar, fat, or salt, lead to the release of pleasure chemicals in the brain. When these chemicals react to other neurotransmitters that drive human behavior, the person’s brain perceives that it needs that food for survival. Recent evidence demonstrated that these foods, especially sugar, caused the brain to consistently release opium in the brain. The brain then becomes “addicted” to the presence of opiates cause by sugar intake. This brain sugar addiction is similar to the brain addicted to heroin or prescription pain pills. Researchers have demonstrated this: They addict the lab mice to sugar, then give them an opiate blocker, and they go into physical opiate withdrawal exactly the same way a heroin addicted human would when given an opiate blocker!.

Furthermore, as is the case with other addictions, food addiction also leads to a tolerance effect, wherein the person needs to eat ever-increasing amounts to feel the same level of pleasure. Withdrawal symptoms have also been recorded in humans struggling with food addiction. Those who are addicted to a certain food may eat to the point of illness or expend extra effort to obtain the addictive food. If left untreated, these kinds of compulsions can cause not only obesity, but also a host of other health problems in the short and long term.


Dr. William Leach of Longwood, Florida: Specializing in Addiction Medicine

Dr. William Leach is an experienced addiction medicine practitioner. He completed a fellowship in the subject at the University of Florida and holds board certification from the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM).

Addiction medicine focuses on screening for, treating, and preventing addiction and substance abuse. Specialist physicians in the subject are certified by the ABAM, which requires them to show competence in several areas of care, including diagnosing and screening for health issues related to addiction and substance use, accurately conducting patient histories, and detecting physical signs of intoxication, acute substance use, withdrawal, and chronic use of substances. Physicians specializing in addiction medicine also receive training in communication to ensure that they approach their patients in a nonjudgmental, respectful manner, utilize accurate nomenclature that does not stigmatize the patient, and be firm and structured with patients when necessary.

Teaching Mindfulness as a Treatment Strategy in Addiction By Dr. William Leach

Drug use has been shown to cause reversible damage to the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems of the brain (among many other areas), dis-enabling the individual’s ability to regulate both self-control and emotion respectively. Because of this finding, leading edge scientific evidence based addiction treatment programs are adopting methods to target this damage. Many addiction centers have implemented mindfulness education programs. With its origins in Eastern self-awareness training and meditation, mindfulness teaches individuals to pay attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. Mindfulness is practicing living in the waking meditative state. Living in the present mindful moment is where all peace, happiness, harmony, cooperation, sharing and reverence for life reside. Mindfulness practice essentially reinforces the natural condition: that of living as a human being in contrast to living as a human doing (where humans spend most of their time). Adopting and following mindfulness practice has demonstrated results in activating the prefrontal cortex and stimulating the growth of the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and learning. Furthermore, research has shown that mindfulness practice is associated with fostering the development of the areas of the brain that enable a person to show empathy.

Humans with the structural brain disease of addiction often have difficulty believing that they are able to change and have a lack of awareness of both their present condition and their associated mal-adaptive behaviors. Research on mindfulness meditation indicates that temperament or character qualities, once viewed as unchangeable, can be altered significantly. Mindfulness assists the human by fostering the growth of their personal self-awareness (elsewhere commonly referred to as “recovery”). Increasing clarity and decision-making ability follow. Mindfulness training facilitates a person’s ability to see options in a more objective fashion. Incorporating these effective mindfulness skills and effectively drawing upon the support of self-aware others will propel the individual into ongoing lifelong self-awareness. Abstinence from the addictive substance (or process) and practiced lifelong self-awareness is the “cure” for addiction.

About the author: Based in North Central Florida, Dr. William Leach operates a comprehensive practice in addiction medicine. Dr. Leach teaches mediation, mindfulness and self-awareness training to patients. He completed his Clinical Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida McKnight Brain Research Institute. He is also specialty certified in addiction by the American Board of Addiction Medicine.