Does food addiction exist? A phenomenological discussion based on the psychiatric classification of substance-related disorders and addiction

Obes Facts. 2012;5(2):165-79. doi: 10.1159/000338310. Epub 2012 Apr 19.


The relationship between overeating, substance abuse and (behavioral) addiction is controversial. Medically established forms of addiction so far pertain to substance use disorders only. But the preliminary Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders V (DSM V) suggests replacing the previous category 'Substance-Related Disorders' with 'Addiction and Related Disorders', thus for the first time allowing the diagnosis of behavioral addictions. In the past psychiatrists and psychologists have been reluctant to systematically delineate and classify the term behavioral addiction. However, there is a broad overlap between chemical and behavioral addiction including phenomenological, therapeutic, genetic, and neurobiological aspects. It is of interest to point out that the hormone leptin in itself has a pronounced effect on the reward system, thus suggesting an indirect link between overeating and 'chemical' addiction. Thus, leptin-deficient individuals could be classified as fulfilling criteria for food addiction. In our overview we first review psychological findings in chemical (substance-based) and subsequently in behavioral addiction to analyze the overlap. We discuss the diagnostic validity of food addiction, which in theory can be chemically and/or behaviorally based.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Eating / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / etiology
  • Hyperphagia / psychology*
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*


  • Leptin