Is There Such a Thing as Chocolate Addiction?
Is there such a thing as a chocolate addiction? Many people who should be in a position to know have studied this issue. Not all have come to the same conclusion, although only a few believe chocolate is, without question, addictive. The findings more often than not give one of the following answers to the question: 1) no it isn’t, 2) there are things about chocolate that mimic addiction, and 3) it might be. Chocolate hasn’t been proven to be addictive physiologically, but from a psychological perspective there are still a few uncertainties and unanswered questions.
Many people exhibit withdrawal symptoms when withdrawing from heroine, nicotine, and alcohol, all addictive substances. People also exhibit withdrawal symptoms when withdrawing from foods that are high in fat, or high in sugar content. Doughnuts are not considered to be addictive, although a person can definitely develop a craving for them, and can also suffer certain withdrawal symptoms, which is most likely due to the sugar. As far as actual addiction is concerned, chocolate seems to fit somewhere in between alcohol and doughnuts, but no one is certain exactly where.
Mood Altering Chemicals
Heroin and alcohol both contain mood altering chemicals. So does chocolate, although the chemicals involved are not the same. Some vegetables contain the same mood altering chemicals as chocolate. Alcohol can be addictive, but broccoli does not have any addictive properties. Chocolate is somewhere in between.
Chocolate is nevertheless a feel-good food. Chemicals in it are responsible for releasing the feel good chemical dopamine in the brain. Many people have a craving for chocolate, just as many have a craving for a cigarette or a glass of vodka. In the case of chocolate however, the craving has never been proven to result from a chemical addiction. It is more of a craving that is due to the feel good experiences eating the food seems to promote.
There is also a cultural aspect to all of this. If you stop and think about it, most people who smoke and drink didn’t start doing so because they knew for a fact that either one would make them feel good. The first attempt at smoking or drinking usually isn’t all that enjoyable, leading some to quit while they’re ahead. People very often do one or the other of these two things for the first time because it’s a forbidden sin. Partaking in a forbidden sin can make a person feel good, and when that is the case, that person will often go back for more.
Chocolate is also somewhat of a forbidden fruit in our society. It is often pictured as an unhealthy food, which is not exactly true. The problem with chocolate is that it can be fattening, plus many of the food items it is found in are loaded with sugar, which is not a healthy food. Consequently, the feel good experience eating chocolate can cause is sometimes enhanced when chocolate is eaten on the sly, when no one is looking, or no one suspects. In such cases, people don’t eat chocolate, they “indulge” in it, even if it’s only a small bite. A craving for chocolate could, therefore, be largely or in part due to cultural and environmental factors.
Those who love chocolate often refer to themselves as chocoholics, and they aren’t ashamed to admit what they may think of as having a chocolate addiction. On the other hand, people are not all that apt to call themselves alcoholics or nicotine addicts, either because of denial, or because of the stigma attached. There can be a slight stigma attached to the word chocoholic, the implication being that the chocolate lover has weak willpower. Nevertheless, chocoholics are often secretly envied, since they are constantly indulging themselves in a forbidden fruit.
Chemicals vs. Taste
There is one other comparison worth noting between chocolate and alcohol. Alcohol is a chemical compound, and it is addictive. An alcoholic drink can be, and usually is, processed by an aging process or the addition of other chemicals to alter its taste. A Singapore Sling certainly tastes better than does a shot of 100 proof alcohol. The taste factor can certainly make a drink more enjoyable, but the taste itself isn’t at the heart of the addiction. It’s different with a candy bar. Here it’s the taste that drives the craving. A chocolate candy bar contains a number of different chemicals, none of which are addictive, or present in large enough quantities to be so. In any event, the digestive system usually breaks down those chemicals before they could do any harm. It does not do that with alcohol however. Another thing to consider is the fact that pure cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate, is bitter tasting, and not something that one would be likely to indulge in. It’s the other substances that are added to enhance the flavor and make it palatable that drives the craving.
Having a craving for something is not the same as being addicted to something. Addiction causes craving, but the reverse is not true, and there does not appear to be anything about chocolate that makes it truly addictive. It just tastes good.