Alcoholism and Obesity Share Same Risk Factors

Addiction researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say alcoholism puts people at risk for obesity, also noting the association between the two has become more pronounced in recent years.

The report that appears in the Archives of General Psychiatry was conducted by Richard A. Grucza, MD and colleagues who say individuals with a family history of alcoholism have an elevated obesity risk. In addition, that risk seems to be growing. The association is especially strong for women.

Food and Alcohol Addiction Occur in Same Area of the Brain

Grucza says it might be that food and alcohol addiction occur in the same area of the brain stimulated by foods that weren’t always available.

He explains “Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories than the food we ate in the 1970s and 1980s, but it also contains the sorts of calories — particularly a combination of sugar, salt and fat — that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain.”

Data for the study came from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey conducted in 1991 and 1992 and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions conducted in 2001 and 2002 that included almost 80,000 people between the two surveys.

Grucza says, in 2001 and 2002, women with a family history of alcoholism were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without a family history. “We also noticed a relationship in men, but it was not as striking in men as in women.” He says that perhaps people substitute one addiction for another, explaining why alcoholism and obesity risk factors are shared.

Though there is no conclusion as to why obesity and alcoholism are linked, Grucza says it’s probably as simple as a change in food environment. People who are addicted to food are also likely to have addictive tendencies toward alcohol. He also notes alcoholism does not cause obesity and that usually the opposite occurs.

Washington University in St. Louis