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.