Could Chocolate Addiction Be Real?

We chocolate extremos like to joke that we're chocoholics -- but maybe the joke's on us. Could chocolate addiction really exist?

Ask a true chocolate lover if chocolate addiction is a real affliction, and you're likely to get a resounding, "Well, duh." As with coffee addicts, the sacred bean holds us in its thrall...or does it? Scientists aren't so sure. Could it be that true chocoholism is more psychological than real?

It's clear that chocolate truly doth have charms to soothe the savage beast (music -- ha!), but the jury's still out on whether or not it's truly addictive, in the sense of being habit-forming. That's what we'll cover in this article -- though we have to admit, our first tendency is to say not just yes, but heck yes.

One big excuse?

There are those who regard the concept of chocolate addiction as an excuse for cravings, those powerful urges to eat that every chocoholic has experienced. In fact, chocolate is the most craved food in the world. But cravings are typically spurred by external and emotional triggers rather than true physical need.

In women, choco-craving may have a hormonal basis, but the reasons why are still unclear at this point. Chocolate is, however, known to contain a pleasurable compound called serotonin. Similarly, high-fat foods trigger a release of serotonin in the brain, making you feel happy. That's how comfort foods work in general.

On the other hand...

The reason the jury's still out on chocolate addiction, despite this reasonable explanation of cravings, is the fact that, well, it might not necessarily be so. Recent studies have revealed that pleasant chocolate-eating experiences result in increased blood flow in the same portions of the brain activated by cocaine.

Chocolate's active ingredient is theobromine, a close relative of caffeine, so some addiction might be expected. Yet some researchers suggest that chocoholics are actually reacting to the enormous amounts of sugar in their treats. Sugar withdrawal is known to be oddly similar to morphine withdrawal.

Obviously, much more work needs to be done on chocolate addiction, so lots more chocolate needs to be consumed under controlled laboratory settings. Any volunteers?

A hung jury

As far as we can tell, the answer to the burning question that serves as the title of this article is a resounding, "Maybe!" Chocolate is certainly a craving, but is it actually an addiction? At this point in time, there's evidence for both.

So it's possible -- even likely, if you ask us -- that chocolate may someday be classified as addictive. But allow us to remind you: there are worse drugs to be addicted to than chocolate. Even if chocolate addiction is a reality, it's one most of us can live with.