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A study of rats suggests a link between binge eating and the development of other addictive behaviors.

The researchers, from Penn State College of Medicine, note substance abuse is common in people who engage in binge eating, PsychCentral reports. “Substance abuse and binge eating are both characterized by a loss of control over consumption,” said lead researcher Patricia Sue Grigson, PhD.  “Given the common characteristics of these two types of disorders, it is not surprising that the co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders is high. It is unknown, however, whether loss of control in one disorder predisposes an individual to loss of control in another.”

Dr. Grigson divided the rats into four diet groups: normal chow, continuous access to optional dietary fat, one hour of access to optional dietary fat daily, and one hour of access to dietary fat three days a week. The researchers then assessed the rats’ cocaine seeking and using behavior.

Rats that only had access to fat three days a week developed binge-eating behavior. This group tended to use more cocaine, tried to get the drug when it was not available and worked harder to get the drug, compared with the other rats.

The rats that had continuous access to fat ate more fat than any other group, but were three times less likely to show addictive behaviors than the rats that only could eat fat three days a week.

“While the underlying mechanisms are not known, one point is clear from behavioral data: A history of bingeing on fat changed the brain, physiology, or both in a manner that made these rats more likely to seek and take a drug when tested more than a month later,” Dr. Grigson said in a news release.

Her study, published in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggests that conditions that promote excessive behavior toward one substance can increase the odds of excessive behavior toward another, the article notes.

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