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Impaired Control

Food Addict unable to control amount or choice of food
Impaired Control

Impaired control is a term that describes the difficulty or inability to regulate one's behavior or impulses, especially in relation to substance use. Impaired control can manifest as cravings, loss of control over the amount or frequency of use, unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down, and continued use despite negative consequences.


Impaired control with food parallels substance use abuse. Some people may experience impaired control over their food consumption, leading to binge eating, obesity, or other eating disorders. Food consumption choices, quantities, and timing can trigger the same reward pathways in the brain as substance use, releasing dopamine and other neurotransmitters that create a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.

Over time, this can lead to changes in the brain's structure and function, making it harder to resist the urge to eat or to stop eating when full.

Food consumption choices can also be influenced by psychological, social, and environmental factors, such as stress, mood, peer pressure, availability, and marketing. These factors can increase the likelihood of eating for reasons other than hunger or nutrition, such as coping, comfort, or reward.

Unregulated food consumption can progress to become a maladaptive habit or an addiction, interfering with one's health, well-being, and quality of life.

This means that a person with food addiction may have difficulty regulating their intake of certain foods, especially those that are individually identified trigger foods, as well as those high in fat, sugar, or salt especially when they are in a vulnerable mental or emotional situation.


Food addicts at any stage of severity may also experience

  • intense cravings for these foods,

  • eat more than they intended or planned, and

  • continue to eat despite negative consequences such as health problems, guilt, or shame.


Impaired Control is One of the Four Main Categories For Substance Use Disorder Criteria


The four main categories of criteria for substance use disorder in the DSM-5;

  1. Impaired Control

  2. Physical dependence

  3. Social problems

  4. Risky use. 


Eleven Criteria For Substance Use Disorder


To be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, a person must meet at least two of the 11 criteria within a 12-month period. 


Impaired control includes four criteria: 

  1. taking larger amounts or for longer periods than intended, 

  2. unsuccessful efforts to cut down or stop, 

  3. spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the substance, and 

  4. having strong urges or cravings to use .


Impaired control over food consumption can have serious consequences for a person's physical and mental health, as well as their social and occupational functioning.


Impaired control can lead to

  • obesity,

  • diabetes,

  • cardiovascular disease, and

  • other chronic conditions.

Impaired control can also cause

  • psychological distress,

  • low self-esteem,

  • depression,

  • anxiety, and

  • eating disorders. 


Impaired control can also interfere with a person's 

  • relationships, 

  • work, 

  • school, or 

  • hobbies, 

as they may

  • isolate themselves,

  • neglect their responsibilities, or

  • avoid situations where they may be tempted or judged by others.


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