The Neurosceptic at Discovermagazine.com took on that question in a recent blog post. The author discusses a recent article arguing that dopamine release in response to food is evidence of food-related addition. Here are the problems with that thinking:
If you view addiction as essentially about reward (pleasure), surely that means that anything pleasurable could also be addictive? Or to put it another way, if you’re saying that addiction is the direct consequence of over-indulgence in a reward, then aren’t you saying that reward itself is ultimately what’s addictive?
If everything from food to friends to music are rewarding because they trigger dopamine release, then surely all of those things could be ‘addictive’. If ‘reward’ is essentially monolithic, and the various kinds of rewards differ only in how powerful they are, then everything’s addictive to a degree. The more fun, the more (potentially) addictive. The better something is, the worse it is.
This seems to me to be the logical conclusion of this approach to addiction. Let’s call this (very widespread) approach neuropuritanism.
The funny thing is that this idea – for all its medical, neurobiological, scientific language – actually undermines the concept of addiction as a ‘disease’ and reduces it to what amounts to a moral failing – it casts addiction as over-indulgence. The Sin of Gluttony, if you will.