Similarity between obesity and drug addiction as assessed by neurofunctional imaging: A concept review

Gene Jack Wang, Nora D. Volkow, Panayotis K. Thanos, Joanna S. Fowler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

412 Scopus citations


Overeating in obese individuals shares similarities with the loss of control and compulsive drug taking behavior observed in drug-addicted subjects. The mechanism of these behaviors is not well understood. Our prior studies with positron emission tomography (PET) in drug-addicted subjects documented reductions in striatal dopamine (DA) D2 receptors. In pathologically obese subjects, we found reductions in striatal DA D2 receptors similar to that in drug-addicted subjects. Moreover, DA D2 receptor levels were found to have an inverse relationship to the body mass index of the obese subjects. We postulated that decreased levels of DA D2 receptors predisposed subjects to search for reinforcers; in the case of drug-addicted subjects for the drug and in the case of the obese subjects for food as a means to temporarily compensate for a decreased sensitivity of DA D2 regulated reward circuits. Understanding the mechanism in food intake will help to suggest strategies for the treatment of obesity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-53
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Addictive Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine receptor
  • Drug abuse
  • Obesity
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Somatosensory cortex


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