Food addiction is not yet recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but it has the potential to shed a huge amount of light on the mechanisms of disordered eating and obesity.  

It should come as no suprise that overeating can be a key factor in obesity.  The compulsive nature of overeating has been well documented and classified as binge-eating disorder.  However, this classification leaves out the addictive mechanisms of food on our brains.


Recent studies have drawn parallels between the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brains of heroin addicts when they get a hit and the brains of obese individuals when they eat high-fat and sugar foods.  That's right.  Heroin.


More studies are in progress, but a central consideration is whether or not addiction models of treatment are appropriate or effective for obesity.


The classifiers for addiction, as listed in the DSM-5 are:


  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to

  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to

  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance

  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance

  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of substance use

  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships

  7. Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use

  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger

  9. Continuing to use, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance

  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance)

  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.


Two or three symptoms indicate a mild substance use disorder, four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance use disorder, and six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder.


A consideration of the addictive qualities of food and compulsive eating is an important part of obesity research today.  If you feel this could be an issue for you, please have a look at some of the resources below.