Opioid peptides and the control of human ingestive behaviour

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 Oct;26(6):713-28. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(02)00041-6.


A variety of evidence suggests that endogenous opioid peptides play a role in the short-term control of eating. More recently, opioid receptor antagonists like naltrexone have been approved as a treatment for alcohol dependence. Here we review the evidence for a role of opioid peptides in both normal and abnormal eating and drinking behaviours and in particular try to identify the nature of the role of opioids in these behaviours. Particular attention is paid to the idea that opioid reward processes may be involved both in the short-term control of eating and hedonic aspects of alcohol consumption, and parallels are drawn between the effects of opiate antagonists on food pleasantness and the experience of drinking alcohol. The review also explores the extent to which data from studies using opiate antagonists and agonists provide evidence for a direct role of endogenous opioids in the control of ingestive behaviour, or alternatively whether these data may be better explained through non-specific effects such as the nausea commonly reported following administration of opiate antagonists. The review concludes that the present data suggests a single opioid mechanism is unlikely to explain all aspects of ingestive behaviour, but also concludes that opioid-mediated reward mechanisms play an important control in hedonic aspects of ingestion. The review also highlights the need for further empirical work in order to elucidate further the role of opioid peptides in human ingestive behaviour.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism
  • Appetite Regulation / drug effects
  • Appetite Regulation / physiology
  • Drinking Behavior / drug effects
  • Drinking Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Obesity
  • Opioid Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Opioid / agonists
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Water Intoxication


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Opioid Peptides
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Naltrexone