Food addiction, also called compulsive overeating, is characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating, where the patient may feel out of control and unable to stop eating until he or she is uncomfortably full.
While food addiction is different than a drug or alcohol addiction in that psychoactive substances do not alter the brain, food addiction does meet many of the criteria for addictive and obsessive-compulsive behavior. There is research that has shown that many of the molecular mechanisms in the brain that drive people to drug addiction are also present in compulsive overeaters. Other studies have suggested that food addicts have disruptions in the reward centers of the brain. Some theories propose that high fat, high sugar, and high salt foods affect the reward centers of the brain and release endorphins, which cause pleasurable feelings and comfort.