Can People Become Addicted to Food?

As I was brainstorming what topic to write my blog post about, I thought one thing: Wow, I am hungry.  As I was thinking about which place to order food from, my immediate first thought was Wings Over.  I eat Wings Over far to often, and would almost consider myself addicted to it.  That’s when this idea came into my head.  There have been several moments in my life where I have joked about being addicted to a certain food, but I now want to know if people could actually become addicted to certain kinds of food.


It is well known that humans can be addicted to certain things.  Typically, when you hear of an addiction you think of drugs and alcohol, but that is far from the extent of it.  Scientists used to not believe in the idea that people can become addicted to food, but have changed their minds.  A study of rats, which are very closely related to humans in terms of eating habits, shows that rats could and do become addicted to certain foods.  Rats show the same distinct behaviors with food that humans show when exposed to drugs.  When observing brain activity, the rat’s brain (when exposed to food) shows very similar signs as the human brain (when exposed to drugs).  The definition of the word “addiction” has recently been changed.  The new meaning of the word is a lot more broad, and states that addiction does not even have to refer to a substance; it can refer to an action such as gambling, sex, and shopping.  Anything that stimulates a desired response in the brain’s hypothalamus is considered an addiction.  Many eating disorders involve some kind of addiction.  Binge eating can be considered an addiction because people who experience it need to eat a lot, and cannot function without doing so.  This need to eat stimulates the brain’s hypothalamus, classifying binge eating as an addiction.


A Yale University study looked into this topic, and decided to use chocolate as its food of choice.  Generally, humans are addicted to foods which contain a large amount of sugar and fat.  In this specific study, an observational study, the researchers observed the brains of the volunteers when exposed to chocolate via sight, smell, and taste.  The volunteers were presented a chocolate milkshake to see, then were able to smell the milkshake, then finally able to drink it.  The volunteers who were labeled as the most addictive showed tremendously high activity in the Hypothalamus when they were just able to see and smell the milkshake.  Once actually able to drink it, the brain activity reduced drastically.  This brain activity when shown the milkshake compared to when actually able to consume it is very similar to the brain activity of humans when presented with drugs.


Addiction, in general, is a problem that involves both nature and nurture.  A human does not come out of the womb as crack addict.  They first have to be exposed to the stimuli to be addicted to it.  It is impossible to be addicted to something you have never tried before.  At the same time, though, addiction has genetic ties.  Someone who’s parents are both crack addicts is much more likely to be addicted to crack once exposed to it.  If a parent is addicted to a certain kind of junk food, it is best to not expose their child to that as they have a much larger chance of being addicted to the same substance.

A confounding variable associated with food and addiction is stress.  When somebody goes on a diet, they are working to fight their addiction.  Typically, when a person goes on a diet, they completely eliminate extremely fatty and sugary substances.  This is what makes dieting so difficult.  We learned earlier that these fatty and sugary substances are what humans are most commonly addicted to, so having a diet without these substances can provide a very difficult challenge.  When working to eliminate an addiction, or when the addiction is already gone, one thing causes people to go back to it more than anything else; stress.  When people are stressed, they often do not often think about their well being, and work simply to make themselves happier and stress-free.  Someone who has gotten over a drug addition will often start doing that drug again when stressed, because they seek the same happiness they experienced with the drug.  The same goes for food.  Someone extremely stressed who, say, once had a chocolate addiction, may start consuming large amounts of chocolate again to cope with their stress.

After researching this topic, I have learned a lot about addiction in general and addiction specified to food.  Addiction is a very broad term, meaning that humans can become addicted to almost anything.  It is very possible for a human to become addicted to a certain kind of food.

4 thoughts on “Can People Become Addicted to Food?

  1. vek5025

    I think that it is important that you discussed the definition of addiction in your post. When I first read your title, I thought ‘Of course we are addicted to food. We can not live without and I feel like that is a sign of addiction. Also, people suffer from binge eating disorders.’ I have also heard that business people in the food industry know to put sugar in children’s food, because they will be addicted to sugar for the rest of their life and thus buy more of the company’s product. I learned that from a documentary watched in Entomology 202.

  2. Nicholas E Schneider

    I really enjoyed your post; reading your thoughts and findings on addiction in general as well as to food specifically sparked multiple interesting thoughts in my head. I too was unaware that the definition of addiction was recently edited but I do not find this update at all surprising. I agree that when people think of addiction, drugs or alcohol are typically the first substances that come to mind, however, as you may have seen on the hit TV show “My Strange Addiction”, people can be addicted to just about anything (and I mean anything: ). The human brain is an amazingly complex thing, and when a certain person, place, or thing makes them feel a certain way it’s surprisingly easy to become dependent on that thing. One question I have after reading your post came to me after reading the segment of your blog exclaiming that “A human does not come out of the womb as a crack addict. They first have to be exposed to the stimuli to be addicted to it. It is impossible to be addicted to something you have never tried before.” Technically, this is not true. Should a woman consume a drug such as crack or heroin while pregnant, the newborn can actually come into the world as a drug addict. Because of this, I wonder, should a mother suffer from an extreme addiction to + consume an extreme amount of a food such as chocolate or soda while pregnant, could her newborn child come into the world as a chocolate or sugar addict?

  3. Angela Maria Napolitano

    You know that thing where you start eating a bag of salty chips and all of a sudden it’s an hour later and you’ve eaten nearly an entire bag? Yeah that happens a lot. It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. I found an article that actually says that there’s an element of addiction behind why we can’t eat just one chip.

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