International experts and treatment practitioners have been struggling with the question of whether food addiction is or should be classified and treated in the same way substance (drug or alcohol) addictions are.
Both sides of the argument are very compelling, so coming to a consensus has proven difficult.
Food is a "Substance"
On the one hand, those for similar classification say the nature of food addictions, such as overeating, is very much like that of drug and alcohol abuse. The physical reaction to the intake of food causes an addiction that is physical in nature. Hence, treatments should be similar.
This argument is well-founded as research has shown that those who have food addictions will use food in ways very similar to the way alcoholics drink. It is often used as an escape mechanism, but it eventually becomes a physical need as the body adjusts to the intake. With food addiction, the addict will at first eat to cover up a deeper psychological problem, but eventually the food becomes the focus of the issue rather than the original problem.
In this way, treating food addiction should be done in ways similar to alcohol or drug addictions, according to proponents of this school of thought.
Food Intake is a Symptom
The opposing argument is that food is not a substance in the same way cocaine or heroine are, but it is instead a symptom of the underlying problem (self-esteem issues, depression, etc.) and while physical addiction is possible and does occur, it is as a consequence of and is easier to "break" than are other substance addictions.
The argument is that the physical mechanisms that underlie food addiction are naturally occurring and well-understood. There are known "cures" for them and they are relatively easy to handle. Most of the problems with food addiction are, in reality, psychological rather than physical.
This makes treating them difficult and would mean the common treatments used for drug and alcohol addicts will only marginally succeed with most food addicts.
Inconclusive Research Results
Part of the debate is the fact that few studies have been done and the results, overall, have been inconclusive. While early success with food addicts is often had by implementing substance abuse treatment methods, long-term success is not always so sure. Because psychological methods are usually tailored to the individual, study has proven difficult.
For these reasons, food addiction has been the subject of debate. Few deny that it exists, but whether or not it should be treated as drug or alcohol addictions is very much still a matter of debate.