Can you actually become addicted to food?

Jan 3, 2014

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Slices of pizza made by the Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a mobile pizza kitchen in Washington, DC. ; Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Americans typically pick going on a diet as their New Year’s resolution but many don’t make it past the end of January. If you’re having trouble swearing off the chocolate cake or large sodas, could an addiction to sugar be the culprit?

Science is still split on whether or not people can become clinically addicted to food the same way they can to drugs like cocaine or alcohol. Research shows that humans have a strong reaction to sugar, fats and food additives but is there a difference between a serious love of junk food and an actual addiction? Research shows that eating foods heavy on the sugar and fat light up the same receptors in the brain that affect drug addicts.  

Last year, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse spoke publicly about the commonalities between food and drug addictions. Despite that endorsement, food addiction still has not made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V, the influential list of recognized disorders written by the American Psychiatric Association.

What does the current research say about food addictions? Is the brain’s dopamine response to food more similar to other non-physical addictions such as love and attraction or to chemical drugs? Have you experienced addiction symptoms when it comes to food?


Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at UCSF

Barry Levin, MD, Professor of neurology and neurosciences at New Jersey Medical School at Rutgers.



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