Narcolepsy Drug May Help in Food Addiction

December 20, 2016

The drug modafinil—typically used for narcolepsy, shift-work disorder, and excessive daytime sleepiness—significantly reduced impulsiveness in a group of normal-weight men, according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences.

The finding suggests people with food addiction could benefit from modafinil, researchers said.

“It has been shown to reduce impulsiveness in a variety of disorders such as alcohol dependence, schizophrenia, and ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. Food addicts suffer from the same neurobiological conditions, so we believe it will help food addicts as well, and our initial tests have backed up that theory,” said Ivo Vlaev, PhD, professor of behavioural science at the Warwick Business School in Coventry, England.

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Dr. Vlaev and colleagues looked at the ability of modafinil and the ADHD treatment atomoxetine to modify impulsivity through neuronal dopamine pathways in a group of normal weight men between the ages of 19 and 32. Their randomized controlled trial assigned 20 of the men atomoxetine, 20 modafinil, and 40 placebo.

The study found modafinil, but not atomoxetine, significantly reduced deficits in inhibitory control compared with placebo.

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“This could have important implications for people who are obese,” Dr. Vlaev said. “There is mounting evidence to show that there is a substantial number of obese people who are food addicts because they have an inability to control their impulsive actions, and this drug has shown it can give them more control, which will help overweight people lose weight and so improve their health.”

“The drug improves self-control,” he added, “which is a key factor in determining obesity. So our hypothesis is that this drug should help in treating the disease.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Kulendran M, Wingfield LR, Sugden C, Darzi A, Vlaev I. Pharmacological manipulation of impulsivity: a randomized controlled trial. Personality and Individual Differences. 2016;90:321-325.

Behavioural science finds drug for food addicts [press release]. Coventry, England: Warwick Business School; December 13, 2016.