Is Food Addiction Real?

Hold the fries -- if you can. Addiction to food may be more powerful than addiction to drugs

As America’s waistlines expand, the gap between unhealthy and/or illicit habits seems to be narrowing. Now chew on this: According to the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., addiction to food is actually more prevalent than addiction to drugs like crack cocaine.

*Needle scratches of the record * What? First sugar is cocaine, and now all other food is crack? Yes, says Dr. Volkow, an expert on drug addiction. For the love of all that’s creamy, crunchy and buttery, what's going on?

As reported by, Volkow’s recent speech comparing food to street drugs rocked the halls of Rockefeller University with this argument: Fewer than 20 percent of all drug users actually become addicted. But, if you look at the proportion of people who are obese -- 34 percent of adults over age 20 -- then add in those who are just overweight, a whopping two-thirds of the population have problems controlling their food intake on some level. Ergo, food could actually be considered significantly more addicting than crack. Volkow then explained the common dysfunctions of the brain that involve pleasure and self-control. In both cases of obesity and drug addiction, there is often reduced levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (called D2 receptors) found in the brain.

Volkow's research has sent shockwaves through both those in the nutrition and addiction fields. After all, drugs were once thought to be uniquely addictive by creating a chemical imbalance that the brain can’t handle, unlike natural experiences like food and sex. But in our modern food-centered society, where instant gratification is the norm, and cheap, fatty food is always close to our chubby fingertips, we've acutally dulled our senses to feel sated. The hormone leptin, which is released by fat calls to signal fullness, is reduced in obese people. So the body lacks the ability to sense when enough is enough.

Makes total sense. And yet, I am guilty of late-night trolling in the freezer aisle of the closest grocery and convenience stores searching for one of those limited flavors of Ben & Jerry's. Haven't you? That stuff is like crack.

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