Similarities Between Food Addictions and Drug Addictions

Posted on October 5th, 2012

When someone exclaims that they are addicted to chocolate, they might not be that far off. Researchers from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that those with food addictions had similar challenges as those who have drug addictions. Their findings, published in the April 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, described how the brain reacted similarly whether from the intake of cocaine or sugary cake. Other studies have also found connections between the cravings for food and cravings for drugs.

Yale researchers, led by Ashley Gearhardt, studied 48 women of all body sizes and with an average age of 21. A chocolate milkshake brought on much neural activity in the part of the brain responsible for cravings and very small activity in the region that can reduce urges. In both the intake of drugs or desirable food, the brain releases pleasurable dopamine. But, as those pleasurable feelings wear off over time, the body still keeps craving more in order to get the same pleasure it used to get.

A collection of studies stressed the similarities between food addictions and drug addictions:

  • Building a Tolerance, Difficult Withdrawal – A study in France in 2007 found that the craving for sweets can be so intense that even lab rats consistently preferred sugar water over cocaine. Their cravings for the sweets grew as someone craving for a drug. When their sugary fix was taken away they even experienced withdrawal symptoms of tremors and anxiety.
  • It’s Not a Problem – At some point many drug addicts and food addicts deny that they have a problem. They just can’t see it from within. A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington stated that people often underestimate their weight by a pound a year and their calorie intake.
  • Failure to Quit –  "Breaking the habit" is repeatedly attempted by both food and drug addicts. Cravings torture the brain into wanting to feel the moment’s pleasure once again. Individuals try multiple strategies to wean themselves off a drug or food craving, but often fall back into the habit. Nearly 95 percent of those who succeed in losing some weight eventually gain it back.
  • Hiding From Others – Those with drug problems or food addictions try to hide it from their family and friends. In their attempts they often alienate themselves. The less they are seen, the less time someone has to notice their addiction.

Addiction enslaves the brain with uncontrollable cravings, whether for food or for drugs. Many of those who suffer from either drug or food addictions also often suffer from other co-occurring disorders which only complicate addiction problems further. Future research can help curb the cravings by finding important links that can provide answers to treatment.

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