The Soapbox: Your “Cheese Addiction” Is Nothing Like Heroin Or Crack Addiction

All throughout this week, nearly every site on the internet, save us, has reported on a study claiming that cheese is just as addictive as crack or heroin — partially because it contains an ingredient called casein which releases opiates called casomorphins. And with each cheeky “Cheese really is crack. Study reveals cheese is as addictive as drugs!” or serious “Cheese Has The Same Effect On Your Brain As Heroin” headline I read, I feel a chill. With every “I knew it! I’m a cheese junkie!” share of one of these articles, my side-eye grows stronger.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s cute.

Now, people can be psychologically addicted to anything. As my mother, a former addiction counselor, just put it, “You can be psychologically addicted to buying black shoes.” Also, all food is made up of chemicals to begin with, which  truly can have a psychological effect on you. If I eat too much sugar I get deeply, deeply sad–while other people might get hyperactive.

Still none of these things means that cheese or any other food is as addictive as crack or heroin, or that it actually “affects people in the same way” — and saying so is incredibly dismissive of what people go through with real substance addiction and the difficulty in actually getting clean.

Were this actually the case, people would just sit around inhaling cheese plates instead of shooting up. Nacho Doritos would have to be stored in a locked case in the supermarket. If you can even think for a second that cheese affects your brain “in the same way” heroin or crack does, you have obviously never known anyone who was addicted to heroin or crack. Or hell, even watched “Lady Sings The Blues” or “Sid and Nancy.”

I have eaten a lot of cheese in my time, I love cheese! I had a Caprese sandwich for lunch! But I’ve also seen a lot of people I care about deeply go through heroin addiction and withdrawal, and trust me, these are not comparable things. As far as I know, no one has ever died from eating too much brie in a sitting, or became physically ill or unbearably anxious from a lack of burrata. It is entirely unlikely that a fondness for mozzarella sticks has ever ruined someone’s life or broken the hearts of the people who love them. It is possible to enjoy cheese in moderation.

While it’s rare for opiate withdrawal in and of itself to actually kill anyone in the same way withdrawal from alcohol can, it’s such a horrific thing to go through that it very often leads to suicide. That’s why people go on methadone or Subutex instead of just going cold turkey. You can go cold turkey on cheese without any physical symptoms. That is a pretty damned important difference right there.

I tend towards hyperbole a lot, so perhaps it’s hypocritical of me to be so bothered by this. But it’s a hard thing to be cutesy about when you’ve lost people, you know? Some things are so serious that even I can’t be flippant about them, and this is just one of those things.

It’s particularly bothersome when these things are not being taken seriously enough to begin with. We live in a country where people who do have these kinds of serious addictions are often denied the help they need unless they happen to have a boatload of money, or when we care so little about them that politicians scoff at needle exchanges. When we just throw people with addictions in jail instead of giving them real treatment.

It’s possible to talk about really liking cheese, or even being psychologically addicted to cheese in some way, or about the chemicals within cheese without needing to compare anything to a heroin or crack addiction.