The Addiction Dot

What is the microbiome’s role in addiction? Nobody knows for sure, but evidence mounts to indicate that it is major.

The background for this topic can be found in earlier posts, especially in “Connecting the Universe of Dots,” which borrows an expression used by Dr. Noel T. Mueller, who wrote “The Gut Microbiome and Childhood Obesity: Connecting the Dots.” The poetic comparison refers to the children’s puzzle, as seen in the picture on this page.

Metabolism, obesity, gene activity, food preferences, neural pathways, the brain. They all have ways of acting on one another, and even the connections that don’t seem to exist, might, because not everything is known.

The microbiome is heavily involved with human stress, and addictive behavior is a stress response, and once more, things tie neatly together. Take morphine, for instance. Anyone reckless enough to play with opiod drugs often finds that the experience includes vomiting, and the responsible party seems to be the microorganism Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

It does not like opiates, and makes its objections known in a particularly painful way. It exacts retribution by suppressing the intestine’s ability to produce mucus, so the epithelial cells become irritated and in turn annoy the immune system into reacting.

What else can cause vomiting? Allergies to substances, like food. Food allergies are hard to pin down, and very problematic because eating is unavoidable and often we don’t have a choice about what to eat or the opportunity to closely scrutinize the ingredients or question their origins.

Incidentally, if morphine and its derivatives are so hard on the digestive tract, how do people ever manage to continue using, and become addicts? One school of thought holds that the same substance can be both an allergen and an addictor. Likewise, as any teenager knows, booze and puking go together like jet skis and lakes. Medical professionals who deal with alcoholism foster a suspicion that people who are addicted to alcohol are also allergic to it.

The dysbiosis caused by alcohol leads to hyper-permeability of the intestinal lining, otherwise known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. A writer known only as Jacob describes the findings of a 2015 study, “The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota”:

Human studies reveal that chronic alcohol consumption may cause bacterial overgrowth of unfavorable bacterial species and pathogenic bacteria, and intestinal dysbiosis…

When the balance of the gut microbiota is altered […] it can lead to gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and food allergies.

Candida is a tiny opportunistic fungus that ought not to run around loose inside an alcoholic. It not only helps to bore holes in the intestine, it manufactures alcohol that goes through those holes into the bloodstream. The overgrowth of Candida is quite noticeably associated with alcohol addiction. Then too:

[…] the Candida themselves may actually be able to slip through and gain access to the rest of the body causing chronic immune reactions like allergies and autoimmune diseases.

This example shows how, an a roundabout way, the gut microbiome can dictate our proneness and susceptibility to addiction. As we have seen, Candida contributes to Leaky Gut Syndrome, which in turn causes a great many auto-immune conditions. People suffering from these painful disorders often legitimately acquire prescriptions, or illegitimately find pills, and self-medicate themselves into oblivion. They wind up becoming dependent on opiates or other analgesics.

What does this have to do with obesity? A lot of miserable people out there are medicating themselves with food, too — because of pain and unhappiness inflicted by Candida or other intestinal fauna and flora. So they are driven to do the absolute worst thing in terms of ever reducing their distress. They eat more bad food. This is a vicious circle of the worse kind, but maybe our best hope of breaking that particular treadmill is through seeking wisdom from the gut microbiome.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Doing Dry January? Your gut bacteria will be grateful,”, 01/05/16
Source: “Candida and Gut Dysbiosis,”, 01/27/15
Photo credit: jimblodget via Visual Hunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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