Report: Knowledge of substance abuse can help explain compulsive eating

Researchers in a report released February 1 say they can apply their knowledge of tobacco, alcohol, and drug addiction to the reasons why some people eat compulsively.

The report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse was written as part of the organization’s new partnership with the Yale University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

Among the researchers who reviewed the paper and provided feedback was Carlos M. Grilo, PhD, professor of psychiatry and of psychology at Yale, and director of the university’s Program for Obesity Weight and Eating Research.

The report, “Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction: A Science-Based Approach to Policy, Practice and Research,” was written by Linda Richter, PhD, director of policy research and analysis at the center. It represents the organization’s first application of its knowledge of substance addiction to similar risk factors for food addiction.

The paper summarizes published research on eating disorders, obesity and nutrition, and discusses symptoms, risk factors and underlying neurobiological characteristics between food and substance addiction.

We are excited to extend our expertise in substance addiction to the behavioral addictions through this report and our new research and policy collaboration with Yale University.

Samuel A. Ball, PhD, president and CEO of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, and professor of psychiatry and assistant chair for education and career development at Yale

It provides evidence-based recommendations for policy, prevention, health care practice, and research to help reduce the deadly and costly health consequences of unhealthy eating, and supplies resources to further examine the problem.

"We are excited to extend our expertise in substance addiction to the behavioral addictions through this report and our new research and policy collaboration with Yale University," said Samuel A. Ball, PhD, president and CEO of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, and professor of psychiatry and assistant chair for education and career development at Yale. "This paper employs lessons learned from years of research on the addictive substances to improve our understanding and approach to an issue of utmost importance to our nation's public health: unhealthy or disordered eating behavior and the role this plays in the medical disease of obesity."

The paper also provides recommendations for how people with food addiction can address issues like shame associated with overeating, and the significant threat to their health and well-being.

"Given the extent to which obesity and unhealthy eating contribute to sickness and skyrocketing health care costs, it is well worth our time to marshal all available resources to better understand food addiction and the strategies that may help to improve how people eat and the quality of the food supply," Richter said.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Evidence regarding the prevalence of food addiction and its co-occurrence with obesity, binge eating disorder and other health conditions
  • The risk factors, characterizing symptoms and biological mechanisms of food addiction and related disorders and how these overlap with other eating disorders and with substance addiction
  • Recommendations for policy, prevention, health care practice and research, and resources for additional information.

This article was submitted by Christopher S Gardner on February 1, 2016.