Oreos Addictive as Cocaine?

Rats+and+Oreos+Connecticut+College+1200OK, I saw the news item about the study showing rats can get addicted to Oreos! The Connecticut College News also ran the story about addictive Oreos. They picked Oreos because humans like them and they wanted to show a “…direct correlation from rats to a problem facing humans.”

The problem facing humans, of course, is our strong predilection for sweets. But according to those who ran the study, loving Oreos is not just about your sweet tooth. They say it’s comparable to cocaine addiction. I couldn’t find the study in PubMed because it’s not been published in any peer-reviewed journal, but I found another one that sounds comparable [1].

Now they didn’t really find that rats were addicted in the sense we use that term to diagnose a substance use disorder. Rats like Oreos and so do me and my wife. But so far we have not:

  • exhausted our bank account in order to buy Oreos,
  • shot up a gas station in a robbery to get cash to buy Oreos,
  • suffered from any kind of physiologic withdrawal syndrome,
  • developed physiologic tolerance to the point of being able to eat a ton of Oreo centers like the guy on Man vs Food show,
  • lost jobs,
  • destroyed relationships,
  • developed health problems (we don’t eat enough of them to gain excess weight),
  • spent all of our time getting, consuming, and recovering from the effects of Oreos
Psychiatry Addiction
Oreo Addiction

No patient has ever been admitted to our hospital with an Oreo monkey on his back or medical complications from Oreo addiction.

I wonder what Dr. Dawson thinks about Oreo addiction.


1. Levy, A., A. Salamon, et al. (2013). “Co-sensitivity to the incentive properties of palatable food and cocaine in rats; implications for co-morbid addictions.” Addiction Biology 18(5): 763-773.

Several lines of evidence suggest that there may be a shared vulnerability to acquire behaviors motivated by strong incentive stimuli. Non-food restricted male Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 78) underwent place conditioning with Oreos, and were subsequently tested on cocaine self-administration (SA) on fixed and progressive ratios, as well as extinction and reinstatement by cocaine primes and by consumption of Oreos. Although there was a group preference for the Oreo-paired compartment, at the individual level some rats (69%) displayed a preference and others did not. In cocaine SA, ‘preference’ rats achieved higher break points on a progressive ratio, and displayed greater responding during extinction and cocaine-induced reinstatement. Within the context of this study, Oreo-cocaine cross-reinstatement was not observed. In a control study, rats (n = 29) conditioned with a less palatable food (rice cakes) also displayed individual differences in place preference, but not on subsequent cocaine tests. These findings indicate that there is a relationship between incentive learning promoted by palatable foods and by cocaine. This supports the hypothesis that co-morbid food-drug addictions may result from a shared vulnerability to acquire behaviors motivated by strong incentives.


Author: Jim Amos

Dr. James J. Amos is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the UI Carver College of Medicine at The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. Dr. Amos received a B. S. degree in Distributed Studies (Zoology, Chemistry, and Microbiology) in 1985 from Iowa State University and an M.D. from The University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa in 1992. He completed his psychiatry residency, including a year as Chief Resident, in 1996 at the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Iowa. He has co-edited a practical book about consultation psychiatry with Dr. Robert G. Robinson entitled Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. As a clinician educator, among Dr. Amos’s most treasured achievements is the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

2 thoughts on “Oreos Addictive as Cocaine?”

  1. Jim,

    I am trying to pull the original article and read it. Off hand I would say that addiction doesn’t necessarily correlate with more neurons activated.

    To your list of addictive behaviors – I would add that Oreos have no street value. I have always found that to be one of the strongest measures.


Comments are closed.