Is Food Addiction Just Like Drug Abuse?

A new study suggests that overindulgence in processed carbohydrates may have the same effect as substance abuse on the brain

Scientific research has told us time and time again that eating has a huge psychological component. Portion sizes and food choices are determined largely at subconscious levels, and the control people have over their dietary habits can vary widely among individuals. But what effect do these habits have on our brains?

Well, in some cases, it may be much like that of drug abuse. According to the AAAS, a new study by a research team at the Boston Children’s Hospital lends credence to the idea that food addiction is a legitimate phenomenon that can occur in the brain. The study was conducted through brain imaging, utilizing MRIs in order to measure brain activity for the four hours following food consumption. It also measured blood glucose levels during that time period.

Researchers recorded the effects of rapidly- and slowly-digesting carbohydrates on twelve overweight men, and the results were quite distinct. The rapidly digesting carbohydrates, which are found in high-glycemic index foods, were found to provoke greater hunger later on and to stimulate the parts of the brain that govern reward and cravings. As such, they activate the same brain mechanisms that are known to be linked to substance abuse, dependence, and addiction.

David Ludwig, the leader of the study’s research team, stated that “limiting high-glycemic index carbohydrates like white bread and potatoes” could be an effective step in halting the onset of the dangerous brain effects that can lead to weight gain and health problems.


As research into the provocative notion of food addiction continues, news like this can act as a comforting reinforcement of the unwavering truth, told to us from an age immemorial, that we are what we eat. From the heart to the brain, what we put in our mouths greatly affects our overall health, indeed.