Linking Food and Substance Abuse


Oreos are friggin’ good! Or at least my 3 to 13 year old self thought they were. I would eat them by the ½ bag and feel absolutely no guilt, remorse or shame. Honestly, making exciting double stuffed Oreos from the boring single stuffed variety may still be one of my favorite childhood memories. Alas, once I discovered the how amazingly awesome drugs and alcohol made me feel, Oreos quickly lost their luster in my lifelong journey towards self-destruction. I’m sure you understand my shift in preference when you consider how lame a cookie obsession is compared to a raging case of alcohol and drug addiction, but recent research has revealed that the two may if fact be analogous in their effect upon the brain and reward-seeking behavior.

According to a recent study published in the journal Neuroscience, reward behavior associated with consuming Oreos is equivalent to that for cocaine and morphine. In other words, certain foods have the ability to activate the same regions of the brain and the tendency for “seeking” behavior as highly addictive substances.

I suppose I need to mention that this study was performed on rats, but I believe this detail is largely irrelevant because thousands of studies are performed on the same species annually to verify the effect that this or that may have upon human health whose results are widely accepted.

The way I interpret all this information it is that it confirms what we holistic nutritionist specializing in addiction believe incontrovertible – high fat, sugar foods and drugs of abuse trigger brain addictive processes to the same degree and that the consumption of one may contribute or lead to the consumption of the other. More simply, eating junk food may make cravings stronger and motivate seeking behavior that can increase to the likelihood of relapse.

I think this study also helps quiet the noise that food addiction isn’t a disease. Contrary to The American Psychological Association’s acknowledgement of binge eating as a diagnosable disorder (via inclusion in the DSM-V), many are still reluctant to fully recognize the power that substance abuse disorders have over physical and mental health. Regardless of where you stand in the debate concerning food addiction, it is without a doubt that people can be highly motivated to obtain certain foods, like Oreos, due to their high reward value and stimulating effect upon the brain. Motivation similar to that which encourages addicts to pursue their drug of choice.

For more on food addiction, take a look at one of my previous posts Food Addiction: a ‘Legitimate’ Concern? 



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© Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lovitt and TwelveWellness with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.