Eating problems, such as binge eating disorder (BED), occur in nearly 5% of the American population, while drug misuse affects nearly four times as many people. “Substance abuse and binge eating are both characterized by loss of control over consummatory behaviors. Not surprisingly, these disorders share high comorbidity, particularly in relation to alcohol and cocaine dependence,” said Matthew D. Puhl of the Department of Neural and Behavioral Sciences, at Penn State University College of Medicine. “For example, a correlation between preference for sweets and drugs of abuse has been identified in humans. In addition, several studies in rats suggest that repeated exposure to sucrose enhances behavioral sensitization to cocaine, and increases cocaine self-administration.”
In order to examine this link more closely, Puhl conducted a series of studies on 45 male rats over six weeks. He provided the rats with one of four dietary options in order to see if the rats that were given only limited access to fatty foods would develop more addiction-like behaviors than those who had free access to foods high in sugar and fat. In the study, the rats that were permitted fatty foods only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (MWF rats), engaged in binge eating on those days. Puhl found that when provided with cocaine, the MWF rats consumed more than any other rat group, with nearly 50% of them exhibiting addictive consumption behaviors. Puhl said, “A history of bingeing on fat, then, can lead to long-term behavioral vulnerability, presumably attributable to long-term alterations in neuronal function.”
Puhl added that these results highlight the importance of how comorbidity of binge eating and addiction are addressed. “Importantly, the present study provides compelling evidence that fat is not addictive, but the way in which fat is consumed can promote long-term behavioral vulnerability to addiction-like behavior.” He added, “While future studies will need to examine the general nature of this phenomenon (e.g., whether loss of control for sugar or a mixture of sugar and fat also will promote ‘addiction-like’ behavior for cocaine or heroin, or whether ‘bingeing’ on drug also can increase vulnerability for bingeing on fat) and its neuronal underpinnings, the present data indicate the need to be mindful of the turnstile nature of these behaviors, even in a clinical setting focused on treatment and relapse prevention.”
Puhl, Matthew D., Angie M. Cason, Francis H.E. Wojnicki, Rebecca L. Corwin, and Patricia S. Grigson. “A History of Bingeing on Fat Enhances Cocaine Seeking and Taking.”Behavioral Neuroscience 125.6 (2011): 930-42. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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