The ingredients in food often have a similar effect on your brain and its chemical reactions as drugs, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The neurological components of food addiction are not as physically compelling as drug and alcohol dependence, though, making food addiction more of a psychological disorder. It does, however, meet the criterion for addiction in that it produces high tolerance levels, withdrawal symptoms and loss of control.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, withdrawal is defined as the cognitive or physiological responses you have when you are denied a substance or it is no longer available. You may eat certain foods to avoid the subsequent symptoms, another sign of withdrawal. While physical changes occur in your body when you don't get sufficient nutrients, the withdrawal symptoms associated with food addiction are more psychological and can include headaches, cold sweats, mood swings and faintness.
Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when your body does not receive enough food. It causes your pancreas to secrete excess insulin in response to the lack of food or sometimes to food cues. Your blood sugar level then drops and can lead to faintness and discomfort. Low blood sugar also causes hunger and cravings for various foods such as sugar or carbohydrates to create additional glucose. Cues include thinking about eating something and setting up the release of insulin, which is similar to the process that drug addicts undergo as they think about getting high.
Food addicts often chase the high they get from overeating or eating foods that create changes in their serotonin levels and blood sugar. Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem often precede a binge, according to the American Psychological Association. To prevent those symptoms, addicts often use food in place of healthier alternatives. Therapists often recommend cognitive behavior therapy to teach food addicts how to respond to the mood swings they undergo during withdrawal. Obesity treatment usually relies on diets and weight loss programs to retrain food addicts. Others rely on substitution, using exercise or other activities to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Food addiction that leads to disruptions in your life, medical conditions and obesity results when addicts try to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Organizations such as Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addicts Anonymous treat the disease with the same 12 steps used by alcoholics in AA. Food Addicts Anonymous embraces the concept that food addiction is a disease directly related to the consumption of sugar, wheat and flour. It encourages complete abstinence from those substances as a tool for recovery.