Food Addiction: A Common Neurobiological Mechanism With Drug Abuse

Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018 Jan 1;23:811-836. doi: 10.2741/4618.


Drugs and food both exert a rewarding effect through the firing of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area, resulting in the release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens and effects on the mesolimbic pathway. Here, we review the neuroimaging literature to consider the validity of food addiction and the common neurobiological mechanisms that overlap in food and drug addiction. This review paper focuses on findings from Positron Emission Tomography (PET), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and structural imaging studies, as well as evidence from neuroimaging studies of bariatric surgery and pharmacological interventions on obese individuals. We examine not only functional and structural changes in the mesolimbic pathways, but also in other frontal areas shown to be involved in drug addiction, including the prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, as well as changes in neurotransmitter systems beyond dopaminergic systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Food Addiction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Food Addiction / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Obesity / diagnostic imaging
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / surgery
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology


  • Dopamine