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Mental Health & Obesity 2014: The Intersection of Obesity and Addiction

Stephanie Sogg, PhD, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

Research demonstrates considerable comorbidity between obesity and addiction. Increasing evidence is emerging that obesity and addiction share several behavioral, psychological, and neurobiological similarities. In both conditions, personality characteristics such as impulsivity and disinhibition, impaired sensitivity to reward, and novelty-seeking have been observed. Neurobiologically, it has been demonstrated that highly palatable foods have a similar impact on brain reward pathways as do substances of abuse such as drugs and alcohol. Further, individuals with obesity and those with substance use disorders (SUDs) both exhibit perturbations in brain systems related to hedonic reward, inhibitory control, and emotion/memory.

Recently, an increasing number of reports have documented an increased risk for new-onset SUDs - particularly alcohol use disorders (AUDs) – among individuals who have undergone weight loss surgery (WLS). Given the increasing prevalence of WLS in North America and Europe, a risk of alcohol misuse after surgery is a cause for significant clinical and public health concern. In addition, this phenomenon represents additional evidence of the connections between obesity, addiction, and the neurobiological mechanisms underlying both conditions.