Can food really be as addictive as drugs?

Can Food Really Be Addictive? Yes, Says National Drug Expert

Compare the proportion of obese people in America to those who are addicted to drugs and then try to argue that food isn’t as addictive as crack cocaine, says Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Can food really be as addictive as drugs? In an impassioned lecture at Rockefeller University on Wednesday, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, made the case that the answer is yes and that understanding the commonalities between food and drug addictions could offer insights into all types of compulsive behavior.

Many of the neural signals involved in addictive behaviour also appear to be active in food reward. Naturally occurring opioids in the brain (including endorphins, enkephalins, dynorphins, and endomorphins) play an important role in neural reward processes that can lead to addictive behaviour. Both homeostatic and reward-based feeding mechanisms involve opioid peptide systems and opioid receptors, and opioid receptor blockers (antagonists) inhibit consumption of both addictive drugs and palatable food. Clinical trials targeting opioid receptors have revealed weight loss potential for opioid antagonists in obese patients. These relationships suggest the existence of a form of opioid-related addiction focused on palatable foods, although there are still major gaps in our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms through which opioids influence the hedonic properties of food.