Is there any scientific literature investigating physical and psychological addiction to food? like e.g. sugar, refined flour, etc.

Some studies, like this one talk about this subject but I'm interested to know more.

  • 4
    Voted to close as "too broad" since there would likely be many different answers to this question depending on what type of food you are talking about specifically. If you want to refine your question and make it more specific, I'd be happy to reverse my vote. Apr 20 '15 at 11:17
  • 1
    You should focus on specific type only, e.g. sugar.
    – kenorb
    Apr 20 '15 at 13:33
  • 2
    ok, so let's focus on sugar this time, and perhaps create more questions for other foods.
    – Attilio
    Apr 20 '15 at 14:05
  • If food addiction is compulsive eating in a manner that is detrimental to the individual. For example if you compulsively eat candy all day long, but make sure your diet contains all important nutrients and your caloric intake equals output, and the eating can be done while working, then you are not addicted. By this definition most programmers aren't coffee addicts at all! Simply because the eating/drinking is not detrimental.
    – jiggunjer
    Jun 4 '15 at 9:40

Consumption of large quantities of sugar has been shown to cause a state of addictionwiki.

Study from 2002 shown that excessive intake of sugar can cause signs of opioid dependence, because this kind of food stimulates our neural systems.

Repeated, excessive intake of sugar created a state in which an opioid antagonist caused behavioral and neurochemical signs of opioid withdrawal. The indices of anxiety and DA/ACh imbalance were qualitatively similar to withdrawal from morphine or nicotine, suggesting that the rats had become sugar-dependent.

This was confirmed by another study from 2008 that suggest sugar releases opioids and dopamine, therefore it might be expected to have addictive potential.

This has been proven in animal model, so it may translate to some human conditions as well causing eating disorders and obesity.

See also: Does having too much sugary things cause headaches?

  • 2
    Answers are appreciated; as discussed in meta, link only answers are not very helpful. Please edit, or this answer risks deletion. Thanks. Apr 23 '15 at 2:50
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    @anongoodnurse I've added more info to the answer, so it's not link-only answer.
    – kenorb
    Apr 23 '15 at 10:22

Most of the studies study food addiction as a whole, because most of the biochemical mechanisms of food addiction are similar for the consumptions of sugar, refined flour, fats, caffeine and other substances. Also, addiction has been studied in relation of people's habit of eating food that is prepared with a combination of ingredients, as donuts or french fries, not separated ingredients. There are many studies that address the issue of excessive consumption of food as a real addiction, similar to that caused by drugs such as cocaine, heroin, alcohol and tobacco (Blumenthal & Gold, 2010; Moreno & Tandon, 2011).

Dr. Ifland identifies the refined products (sweeteners, carbohydrates, fat, salt and caffeine) as the substances that have the greatest potential to cause addiction. Our body is programmed to recognize sugars and fatty substances as fundamental for life and health: they're energy reserves and address us toward the consumption of fruit, rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. With the refining of foods we have an exaggerated concentration of sugars and fats, and this disrupts our evolutionary adaptation (Ifland et al., 2009).

In the explanation of the mechanisms of addiction, there are at least three factors that contribute to the excessive consumption of foods. In the case of sugar and refined flour, part of the explanation goes through the concept of glycemic index: foods with high glycemic index - and load - cause a rise in blood sugar, which leads to an increase of insulinemia and subsequent hypoglycemia that is felt as hunger (Lennerz et al., 2013; Ludwig, 2002). Other explanations rely on the production of endogenous opioids caused by sugars that then would act as stimulants (Drewnowski, Krahn, Demitrack, Nairn, & Gosnell, 1992, 1995), and the lower efficiency of dopamine receptors, which would lead to increased consumption of food to achieve the same satisfaction (Wang et al., 2001; Wang, Volkow, Thanos, & Fowler, 2004). Lastly, a final interpretation refers to the fact that a high consumption of carbohydrates leads to increased levels of serotonin, which is perceived as a pleasant sensation (Wurtman, 1988).


Blumenthal, D. M., & Gold, M. S. (2010). Neurobiology of food addiction. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 13(4), 359–65. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32833ad4d4

Drewnowski, A., Krahn, D., Demitrack, M., Nairn, K., & Gosnell, B. (1992). Taste responses and preferences for sweet high-fat foods: Evidence for opioid involvement. Physiology & Behavior, 51(2), 371–379. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(92)90155-U

Drewnowski, A., Krahn, D., Demitrack, M., Nairn, K., & Gosnell, B. (1995). Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters. Am J Clin Nutr, 61(6), 1206–1212. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/61/6/1206.short

Ifland, J. R., Preuss, H. G., Marcus, M. T., Rourke, K. M., Taylor, W. C., Burau, K., … Manso, G. (2009). Refined food addiction: a classic substance use disorder. Medical Hypotheses, 72(5), 518–26. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2008.11.035

Lennerz, B. S., Alsop, D. C., Holsen, L. M., Stern, E., Rojas, R., Ebbeling, C. B., … Ludwig, D. S. (2013). Effects of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(3), 641–7. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.064113

Ludwig, D. S. (2002). The Glycemic Index. JAMA, 287(18), 2414. doi:10.1001/jama.287.18.2414

Moreno, C., & Tandon, R. (2011). Should overeating and obesity be classified as an addictive disorder in DSM-5? Current Pharmaceutical Design, 17(12), 1128–31. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21492085

Wang, G.-J., Volkow, N. D., Logan, J., Pappas, N. R., Wong, C. T., Zhu, W., … Fowler, J. S. (2001). Brain dopamine and obesity. The Lancet, 357(9253), 354–357. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)03643-6

Wang, G.-J., Volkow, N. D., Thanos, P. K., & Fowler, J. S. (2004). Similarity between obesity and drug addiction as assessed by neurofunctional imaging: a concept review. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 23(3), 39–53. doi:10.1300/J069v23n03_04

Wurtman, J. J. (1988). Carbohydrate craving, mood changes, and obesity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 49 Suppl, 37–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3045110

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