Is Food More Addictive than Crack?



“Oh my god…this [insert delicious food] is better than crack.” Everyone from professional food critics to starving college students has used the phrase time and time again. Whether they are talking about nutella, krispy kreme donuts, or canyon pizza, everyone has experience a time where they believed they loved a food so much, that its magnitude was comparable to that of an addiction to an illicit drug—but most people aren’t serious when they make this statement because of the simple fact that most of them have not tried any illicit drugs.  I will admit myself that I have experienced desserts that left me awake at night, rapt in thought of getting up in the morning to speed off to the grocery store to buy all of them off the shelf. And when I think about it more, I began to question whether or not I was addicted to food, or if it was even possible to be.


I found two articles on Time Magazine’s website that deconstructed the idea of food addiction and what it physically looked like on a person’s brain. In the first article, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, acknowledged that the idea is controversial since many people have rejected it, however, believes that food can be as addictive as drugs. She believes that understanding the similarities between food and drug addictions could offer insight into an array of compulsive behaviors. Volkow described a similarity found between the brains with food and drug addictions—similar dysfunctions in the areas that are connected to pleasure and self-control. The neurotransmitter involved is dopamine, which these brain areas rely on, and a reduction in the number of dopamine D2 receptors were found both in drug addiction and obesity. That is why when we eat food we tend to feel happy and more relaxed, because dopamine elicits those feelings.

The second article in Time references a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that suggests that there might not be a clear distinction between addictive and normal responses, adding to the evidence that all “addictions” act on the same motivational system. The study involved 48 health women ranging in weight from lean to overweight or obese. Their objective was to test the hypothesis that elevated “food addiction” scores are associated with similar patterns of neural activation as substance dependence. Their independent variable was whether or not the participate received a chocolate milkshake or tasteless substance—so the experiment was neither blind nor double-blind. The dependent variable was the neural response after beverage consumption. The study’s conclusion stated that there are similar patterns of neural activation in addictive-like eating habits and substance dependence, such as elevated activation in reward circuitry in response to food cues and reduced activation of inhibitory regions in response to food intake.

So currently, the evidence supports the hypothesis that one can actually become addicted to food. I feel like this study could go more in depth though, like whether or not some foods are more addict than others and if there are any negative side effects to food addiction similar to those of illicit drugs.

3 thoughts on “Is Food More Addictive than Crack?

  1. Olivia Yvette Noble

    This was a really good post! This actually reminded of a show I used to watch where people where addicted to certain foods. One thing that my grand mother always says to me is that “you already know what the food tastes like”. I agree with the post above that there are things in the foods that actually make people want more. For example I know when it comes to sodas, people drink more of it because of all of the sugar it contains. Sugar makes people thirsty, and instead of drinking some water to quench the thirst, they drink more and more soda, because they think that will help.

  2. Weng Ee Then

    This is an interesting post and I actually links in quite well to other posts on this blog. For instance, have you read the one about the addictive components of oreos? While there is some scientific evidence that show how certain foods are similar to drugs in the fact that activate the same reward and pleasure centers in the brain I can’t help but wonder about the after effects of addiction. If food really is as addictive as drugs why are the withdrawal symptoms of drug so different from that of food? Why are the withdrawal symptoms of drugs so severe? It would be an interesting question to answer in order to take this study further!

  3. Byanca Melissa Rodriguez Villanueva

    This is a really interesting post, you would never guess that a person can be addicted to food. But experiments in animasl and humans have shown that for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and herion are also activated by food. Scientist believe that food addiction may play an importan role in obesity. People who are addicted to food will continue to eat despite negative consequences. Even though this addiction goes deeper into how the brain reacts, the people is not conscious about this addiction. They think they are hungry or just want “one last piece”, but the truth is that the chemicals that the food contains triggers parts of the brain associated with pleasure.

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