A study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), reveals that people who tend to eat large amounts of food over very short periods of time (binge eaters) tend to exhibit more behaviors that resemble addiction.
The study was conducted by experts with the Pennsylvania State University
(Penn State) College of Medicine. The team says that these results could eventually lead to the creation of new therapies aimed at binge eating, a condition that significantly affects sufferers' quality of life.
More immediate applications include discovering the factors that contribute to addiction, relapse and substance abuse, in general. Unfortunately, the United States has a lot of drug addicts. These individuals are hooked up either to illegal substances, or prescription medication.
In a paper published in the latest issue of the medical journal Behavioral Neuroscience, the researchers explain how binge eating made lab rats in a series of new experiments exhibit an increased likelihood of searching for, and consuming, cocaine.
What this suggests is that the same conditions which promote a certain type of excessive behavior can also favor another. This discovery could be very important for deciphering the general mechanisms underlying addiction.
“Drug addiction persists as a major problem in the United States. Likewise, excessive food intake, like binge eating, has become problematic. Substance-abuse and binge eating are both characterized by a loss of control over consumption,” explains Patricia Sue Grigson, PhD.
“Given the common characteristics of these two types of disorders, it is not surprising that the co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders is high. It is unknown, however, whether loss of control in one disorder predisposes an individual to loss of control in another,” she adds.
Grigson holds an appointment as a professor with the Department of Neural and Behavioral Sciences at Penn State. She explains that binge eating apparently triggers some predisposing neurophysiological changes in the rats, making them more likely to display addiction-like behaviors.
“While the underlying mechanisms are not known, one point is clear from behavioral data: A history of binging on fat changed the brain, physiology, or both in a manner that made these rats more likely to seek and take a drug when tested more than a month later,” Grigson concludes.