Link between obesity and addiction

Link between obesity and addiction

Both obesity and addiction, to the onlooker, are commonly seen as two independent conditions, one based around a lack of willpower, and the other heavily stigmatised, usually linked to substance abuse.

Yet, through research, a link between obesity and addiction has been found, where behavioural similarities are present, where personality traits are shared across both conditions, and where both organically feed into the same reward system.

Reasonably, research doesn’t suggest that those who are obese also fall risk of an addiction diagnosis. This finding is similar on a vice versa scale, where the development of unhealthy relationships with food will be an unlikely result for drug and alcohol users.

However, as both obesity and addiction are complex conditions, with layers upon layers of side effects, of causations, of cravings and of influences, the exact link between both, and their direct impacts cannot be gauged for all individuals.

Through that, it’s important to understand the link between obesity and addiction, from their impacts on the body and mind to overall quality of life. Similarities and differences will therefore be considered in this blog, along with ways to treat obesity and addiction as standalone, highly impactful conditions.


What is obesity?

Obesity is a condition where excessive levels of fat are found in the body, commonly way above normal BMI rates. Ranking differently to food addiction and uncontrolled eating, obesity is usually fuelled by unhealthy eating habits, low motivation to exercise or can be linked to some conditions, such as thyroid functioning.

Currently, obesity diagnoses are at their highest, where forecasts show that 177 million people, on a global scale, will severely be impacted by obesity by 2025. Remote access to junk foods, greater circulation and promotion of unhealthy meals, and fad diets are some influences, driving up the prevalence of obesity.

This is concerning, as falling overweight can lead to many physical health problems and pressures, along with the development of mental health issues, such as eating disorders, mood disorders and body dysmorphia.


What is addiction?

An addiction is a brain illness, commonly fuelled by influential and addictive stimuli, such as drugs and alcohol. While substance abuse may be the most recognised form of addiction, diagnoses can be made against a wealth of stimuli, from food to gambling and to further similar impulse control disorders.

Addiction diagnoses, for some individuals, are more likely, down to pre-existing cognitive weaknesses. Further influential factors, such as environments, taught behaviours and social experiences can also heighten the likelihood of an addiction diagnosis.

We must add that addiction diagnoses are highly complex, where unique causations can increase the influence of addictive stimuli, along with the strength and makeup of their attachments.

1 in 3 people is found to experience addiction, of some degree, making everyday life very difficult to lead. Concerns linked to addiction fall around physical and mental health, around the development of a dual diagnosis, around suicide rates and around irrational behaviours, linked to many other negative consequences.


By considering the above definitions, it’s easy to differentiate both obesity and addiction, even when considering the relevance of food addiction. Yet, down to their genetical makeups and impacts on the body and mind, there is a strong link between obesity and addiction, making them both harmful and compulsive behaviours.

The first similarity is that both addiction and obesity feed into the same reward system. Consuming drugs and alcohol excessively provide euphoric highs. For someone who has a habit of consuming high sugar and fatty foods, that same effect is expected, offering rewards to the internal system. This is why it’s difficult to both withdraw from drugs and alcohol and even trigger foods, down to their positive impacts on the brain.

The second similarity, strengthening the link between both conditions is the type of people in which they impact. Behavioural similarities are very common; pre-existing cognitive weaknesses are very common, personality traits are also very common, resembling those of obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

The overlap is strengthened here, as both conditions also have similar effects on personalities, outlooks and behaviours moving forward.

The third similarity between obesity and addiction is the severity of their impacts on those affected. Health concerns are the greatest focus, where pressures on vital organs, on brain functionality, on mood and on cardiovascular and respiratory responses. Over time, the enablement of both substance abuse and overeating can result in secondary conditions, heightening their footprints on people’s lives.

The final key similarity falls on the multitude of causations which can trigger both obesity and addiction.

Emotional and environmental influences are commonly the greatest driving forces for both, where emotional eating and the use of drugs and alcohol are normally used as coping strategies. This showcases the impacts that both can have on the reward system, on mood, and on positive reinforcements.

While there is a definite link between obesity and addiction, showcasing their similarities as conditions, there are also key differences, setting them apart.

Research suggests that obesity, down to the survival instinct of food intake, falls significantly differently to addiction, where drug and alcohol consumption isn’t necessary to survive. For addicts, it may be seen like that. Yet, prior to the development of addiction, the presence of drugs and alcohol are unnecessary, ranking very differently to food.

It’s also important to highlight that addiction ranks closer to uncontrolled eating, where psychological habits fuel the ongoing consumption of food/drugs and alcohol. Commonly, someone who is obese can control consumption to an extent down to limited psychological associations.

Through their similarities, treating both obesity and addiction can fall within a similar realm of recovery. Some treatment services will work for both, with a focus on building control and making changes to ingrained lifestyles.

Yet, in the majority of cases, down to the severity and complexity of addiction, greater streams of treatment are necessary, tackling physical and psychological behavioural traits, connections, influences and internal functioning.

Clearly, the link between obesity and addiction provides insight into how the ongoing use of a singular stimulus can heighten habitual behaviours.

It also showcases how some individuals have increased susceptibility of experiencing such unhealthy habits. Yet, through their differences, they stand as singular diagnoses, requiring tailored recovery steps.

If you’re suffering through the signs and symptoms of addiction, we can help you here at Rehab Clinics Group. Necessary to tackle the layers of addiction, complete a comprehensive programme with our guidance.