Is Chocolate Addictive?

By: Debra Ronca  | 
Chocolate is one of the most popular sweet treats around, but do claims of addiction to it have any basis in science? Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Are you one of the millions of people who call themselves a chocoholic? Do you get weak in the knees when you walk past a chocolate shop? Keep emergency chocolate hidden in your drawer so no one will find it? Fall victim to midnight chocolate cravings? Don't worry, no judgment here.

Chocolate does indeed feel addictive, and here's why: When we eat sweet or high-fat foods, our brains get as happy as our taste buds. Sugary and fatty foods cause the brain to release serotonin, which helps stabilize our moods and ward off depression. And because these foods activate the pleasure centers in the brain, studies show that people can become dependent on sugar and fat in their food. Some chocolate addicts even exhibit traits similar to those of drug addicts, such as cravings, irregular eating, anxiety, and abnormal moods [source: Lovering].


But doess chocolate fit the true definition of addictive? You might joke around and say you're addicted to chocolate and simply can't live without it. But let's look at the science.

Three fundamental components make up addiction:

  1. an intense craving
  2. a loss of control over the object of that craving
  3. the continued use of that object despite negative consequences

These components describe drug addiction, but studies show people can exhibit these behaviors with certain foods, as well. The studies even showed similar brain activity between drug addicts and participants presented with chocolate milkshakes [source: Miller]. However, these situations are extreme and don't account for the majority of the population.

Some people point to phenylethylamine, a compound found in chocolate, as proof that it is indeed addictive. Phenylethylamine is a chemical thought to imitate the brain chemistry of someone in love. But you can find higher concentrations of phenylethylamines in foods like cheese, almonds and avocados — and not many of us are making midnight runs to the grocery store for a fix of avocados.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the reference handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn’t recognize chocolate addiction as a diagnosable condition, but does posit that even though chocolate addiction isn’t a real diagnosis, the comsumption of chocolate still creates addiction-like symptoms that can certainly affect how you feel [source: Lovering].

The general consensus is that we crave and seek out chocolate simply because it tastes really, really awesome — not because it's addictive. Many of us see it as a forbidden pleasure, which makes us want it more. And that's why it feels so very addictive.

And remember, there's nothing wrong with indulging once in a while. Savor your chocolate, make it last and remember to buy the good stuff.


Lots More Information

Related Links

  • Lovering, Nancy. "Chocolate Addiction: Fact or Myth?" PsychCentral. June 21, 2022 (July 7, 2022)
  • Miller, Michael Craig, M.D. "Can you become addicted to chocolate?" Harvard Health Publications. Feb. 14, 2013. (July 7, 2022)