Experts: Food can be as addictive as drugs, alcohol

Experts say food may be as addicting as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes

Author: Paul Giorgio, Special Projects Producer, pgiorgio@wkmg.com
Published On: Oct 24 2012 11:40:44 PM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -

The next time you pull into that drive-thru you just might be feeding more than your hunger, you might be feeding your addiction. 

Continuing research confirms that many of the foods we eat every day have the same addicting qualities as drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

Now one University of Florida professor has released a book titled “Food and Addiction: A Comprehensive Handbook.” The book, co-edited by neuroscientist and addiction expert Mark S. Gold M.D. compiles studies across disciplines from policymaking to psychology.

Among the findings, certain foods target the brain with drug like qualities.

“Food and drugs compete in the brain for the same reinforcement sites,” Gold says. “Drug-addicted people, once they stop using drugs, always overeat. People who are stressed or in pain overeat. And they don’t just eat anything - they eat desserts, pizza or other reinforcing foods that have drug-like effects.”

“We’ve shown that animals will self-administer sucrose, glucose and fructose corn syrup, and they will become dependent on those as if they were drugs,” he said. “You can even cause them to have drug like withdrawal.” 

While food addiction is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard of mental illness professionals, Gold hopes his work will educate the medical community and help with obesity treatment in the future.

Gold says history shows that alcohol and cigarette addiction also took years to be recognized.

“There are people who thought that cigarette smoking wasn’t addicting it was a choice, that alcohol is not really addicting it’s the person that is the problem. And I think for eating, everyone eats, not everyone is obese. And there’s a lack of understanding that there are differences among us that put one person at greater risk than another.” 

Gold believes that up to one-third of those who are obese can be considered addicted.

Think you may be addicted to food?

Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy have devised a tool for assessing food addiction. We’ve included the questionnaire in this report.