It’s Sort of Official: Chocolate Is a Highly Addictive DrugS

Think about how less depressing and oh-my-god-I-want-to-rinse-my-eyes-out-with-oven-cleaner Requiem for a Dream would have been if all the main characters were addicted to Russell Stover box chocolates and, instead of wanting to open a coffee shop, wanted to save up for a blow-out trip to Hershey Park. If Darren Aronofsky had access to the latest research linking the urge for rats to stuff their whiskers full of chocolates with an opium-like chemical produced by their brains, well, you can bet he would have made that movie about a fun trip to Hershey and all the wacky antics that ensue after Jared Leto loses his arm to a chocolate fish in the chocolate ocean below the chocolate village presided over by Mayor Cocoa Chocolaton. Chocolate.

Researchers at the University of Michigan may have discovered why it's all but impossible to stop eating delicious chocolates — they activate the neurotransmitters that drive drug addiction or binge eating. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio led a team of intrepid scientists into the eating habits of the earthbound rat, and discovered that a drug boost straight to the neostriatum brain region made rats eat more than twice the amount of M&Ms than they would have otherwise gorged on. Researchers also found that a natural drug-like chemical produced in the neostriatum called enkephalin surged whilst the rats nibbled on M&Ms. According to DiFeliceantonion, her team's findings point to a larger set of "systems" within the brain that facilitate overconsumption:

This means that the brain has more extensive systems to make individuals want to overconsume rewards than previously thought. It may be one reason why overconsumption is a problem today.

ScienceDaily was careful to point out that enkephalin didn't make the rats suddenly like M&Ms more (M&Ms are already as delicious as they'll ever be, which is dangerously delicious) — it just made rats want to eat more M&Ms. DiFeliceantonion thinks her study can tell us a lot about what drives people to overeat. "The same brain area we tested here," she explained, "is active when obese people see foods and when drug addicts see drug scenes." Finding out that enkephalin drives rats to become little chocolate vacuum cleaners suggests that the same neurotransmitter drives overconsumption and addiction in people.

Chocolate, in other words, has now officially joined the ranks of addictive substances that Hollywood should feel free to glamorize with stylized hot cocoa slurping scenes in which a couple (Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh) drop chocolate, curl up on a bearskin rug in front of a dangerously open fire (but they don't care cause they're in chocolate bliss), and do it for like twelve hours straight.

Brain Study Reveals Roots of Chocolate Temptation [ScienceDaily]

Image via Nattika/Shutterstock.