The addictive dimensionality of obesity

Biol Psychiatry. 2013 May 1;73(9):811-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.12.020. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Our brains are hardwired to respond and seek immediate rewards. Thus, it is not surprising that many people overeat, which in some can result in obesity, whereas others take drugs, which in some can result in addiction. Though food intake and body weight are under homeostatic regulation, when highly palatable food is available, the ability to resist the urge to eat hinges on self-control. There is no homeostatic regulator to check the intake of drugs (including alcohol); thus, regulation of drug consumption is mostly driven by self-control or unwanted effects (i.e., sedation for alcohol). Disruption in both the neurobiological processes that underlie sensitivity to reward and those that underlie inhibitory control can lead to compulsive food intake in some individuals and compulsive drug intake in others. There is increasing evidence that disruption of energy homeostasis can affect the reward circuitry and that overconsumption of rewarding food can lead to changes in the reward circuitry that result in compulsive food intake akin to the phenotype seen with addiction. Addiction research has produced new evidence that hints at significant commonalities between the neural substrates underlying the disease of addiction and at least some forms of obesity. This recognition has spurred a healthy debate to try and ascertain the extent to which these complex and dimensional disorders overlap and whether or not a deeper understanding of the crosstalk between the homeostatic and reward systems will usher in unique opportunities for prevention and treatment of both obesity and drug addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Compulsive Behavior / genetics
  • Compulsive Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Eating / psychology
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Reward


  • Dopamine