Every April in supermarkets around the UK, there can be found aisles lined with row upon row of chocolate confectionary. Rabbits, eggs and other small woodland creatures cast in chocolate wait to be taken home to loved ones across the country.
While this elicits warm memories for most, what about chocoholics? Is Easter a difficult time for them? Do they even exist? There are plenty of self-described “chocoholics” out there but most people use the term in jest. There are a number of experts though who believe that, to a certain extent at least, chocolate could be addictive.
The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. Recent studies have shown that parts of the human brain behave in similar way during consumption of chocolate and certain drug use. Both trigger pleasure centres and reward circuits giving us a nice feeling. Chocolate also has a healthy mix of sugar and fat in it. Research has proven that when people are given foods with a 50/50 fat to sugar mix, they consume far more than those only offered foods high in sugar or fat. This makes it seem like becoming addicted to chocolate could be a complexly logical addiction.
However there are many experts that argue chocolate is not an addictive substance. Their logic often starts with the essential components of addiction.
- Intense craving
- Loss of control
- Continued use despite negative consequences
Many people will attest that chocolate cravings are real. There is just something about it that makes chocolate very enticing. However, people also crave pickles, pizza and biltong, craving food is not necessarily a sign of addiction. Since the human body needs food to function, craving food, especially a high energy food like chocolate can be seen as a natural occurrence that is both prudent and evolutionary.
Loss of control is a bit less likely with chocolate. While many people have eaten too much Easter candy in the past, very few will report feeling out of control when they eat. This is a major difference between drug addiction and chocolate addiction.
Humans do, however continue to eat chocolate after experiencing negative consequences. The rising rate of obesity will quickly confirm this. People who often have plenty of healthy options will choose to eat more chocolate despite knowing it is bad for them.
This means that, if chocolate addiction does exist, it is most likely not a simple physical dependence. In other words, eating lots of chocolate does not build up a tolerance and there are no withdrawal symptoms if a person eats a great deal of chocolate and then stops abruptly. It is more likely that people who could really be considered chocoholics are actually binge eaters who have an emotional dependence.
Emotional dependence is different than physical dependence because someone with an emotional dependence does not need the chocolate because they are physically reliant on it to change their mood, they need it to cope with negative emotions. A good example of this is the saying, I eat because I am sad, and I am sad because I eat.” Emotional eaters are addicted to food because they use it to deal with their negative emotions. Have a bad day? Eat a chocolate bar. Get in an argument with a loved one? Eat a chocolate ice cream.
Rather than dealing with negative feelings, emotional eaters use food to sooth themselves. This means emotional eaters never really deal with their negative emotions and often need more and more food in order to deal with unhappiness.
What all this means is that, on some level at least, chocoholics exist. They are simply people who eat to cope with pain, sadness or anger that they are otherwise unable to deal with.
To learn more about eating disorders or other mental health issues, check out Life Works Knowledge Centre.