Can you be addicted to wheat?

Opiates in wheat?

My partner happened to have a natural medicine book out, and in a moment of boredom I looked up gluten intolerance. Most of it I knew, but one sentence stuck out: that undigested proteins in wheat can have “opiate like qualities” and cause mental disorders, including schizophrenia.

Opiate like qualities? Like heroin???

It’s been in the back of my mind since then. I remember craving bread, eating entire loaves by myself. How much I loved pasta. And how incredibly difficult it was to stop, once I realized I was allergic to wheat. I would cheat. Constantly. Even though I knew, I knew it would make me feel terrible. The guilty pleasure, the sheer enjoyment of eating those foods drew me back again and again. I would go far out of my way to get some, particularly the breaded chicken strips (oh how I loved those!). I would tell myself, just one more then I’ll quit.

In short, I acted like an addict.

I did some research, and there is a lot out there about the addictive nature of wheat and its opiate like qualities:

The peptides from gluten and casein are important because they can react with opiate receptors in the brain, thus mimicking the effects of opiate drugs like heroin and morphine. –The Great Plains Laboratory

Withdrawal after stopping wheat or milk products can be painful, exhausting, and depressing, with weakness, anger and brain fog as subsequent downstream effects that can drive the uninformed back to their comfort foods. -CorePsych

Peptides with opioid activity are found in pepsin hydrolysates of wheat gluten and alpha-casein. –National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH)

…we might find these opiate-like peptides to be responsible for bread’s general popularity as a “comfort food”, and our use of phrases like “I love bread,” or “this bread is to die for” to be indicative of wheat’s narcotic properties. –Gluten Free Society

Even after so many years, it is so much harder to not eat wheat when I am hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT) – those classic triggers that chemical dependency counselors always tell you to watch out for because they can cause a relapse. They also say to avoid the places that you “used”, because it will be so much harder – yep, that deli section in that one particular store where I got those chicken strips still pulls at me and I haven’t had one in seven years. And they say to avoid people who don’t support your recovery, because they will try to get you to use again – for many years I would relapse when some one was eating wheat in front of me because it looked so damn good.

Now I think it looks about as appetizing as rat poison, but it was a long hard road to get here with many relapses along the way. I had to hit “rock bottom” with my health before I was able to finally say no.

In some part of my mind, I think I thought I was weak. That if I just tried harder, I could quit wheat. I blamed myself. And the stress and guilt just drove me to eat more wheat. But just like the “just say no to drugs” campaign was an utter failure and didn’t stop hardly anybody, that approach to quitting wheat is unlikely to work either.

The most successful recovery programs are ones that focus on creating positive behaviors and creating very strong networks of support, rather than just refusing the negative behaviors. I think this is part of why blogs like The Gluten Free Girl are so popular and have helped so many people – she focuses on the positive, on saying “yes” to what we can have and “yes” to life, and brings people together.

It is hard enough to get ourselves to quit. It is almost impossible to get some one else to. And it is so utterly heartbreaking to watch.

Those of us who have quit wheat know that it is worth it. That so many aches and pains of the body, mind and heart can be healed – pain we had grown so used to living with we didn’t even notice it any more. Mysterious illnesses, exhaustion, mental fatigue, anger and listlessness, all lifted. Supposedly unrelated and difficult to fix medical conditions, from anxiety to rheumatoid arthritis, finally getting better.

How do you get someone to quit wheat? How do you get someone to quit any substance?

I think it is by focusing on our own recovery. One true story from our own lives has more power to move another’s heart than a thousand theories and lectures. Witness our transformations will be the greatest motivation. And each of us deserves to be cherished and supported by the one person who will always be there…ourselves. I am so very proud of all of us who have worked so hard to overcome our addition to wheat.

And I have so much compassion for those who have not yet been able break free of this poisonous substance. I would say to somebody trying to get free: Don’t give up. There is a vast community here wanting to support you. You can do it. We are waiting to embrace you.


I was talking with my girlfriend this morning and she reminded me that I forgot to say that I also get a euphoria (a “high”) after eating wheat (and especially chocolate, which the body can confuse with wheat) where I feel almost drunk and super happy for a few hours, followed by a “crash” of depression, despair, anxiety, anger etc. Remind you of something? Oh, yeah…a drug.

I also wanted to add that of course this is totally different than actually taking something like heroin (dur!), but that the effects on the body can still be life threatening: it starts to impact every organ in the body and can lead to terminal diseases. It also can greatly interrupt the ability to function in daily life, from fatigue so bad you can’t do much to emotional swings that make it difficult to maintain relationships. And it can also be gut wrenching, frightening, and extremely difficult to quit wheat.

It’s scary to face this stuff – I was in denial for many years. I knew I was allergic to wheat and avoided things that obviously were wheat based (like pasta), but I still ate the “little things” (like soy sauce) for a LONG time – I was scared to face that I might have to go 100% gluten free and all the work that would entail. And this society is so judgmental of issues around eating, particularly with women. It was actually kind of scary for me to admit in this post that I had such cravings for food. But I do believe the only way to change things is to be honest (and compassionate/accepting) with each other.

I also forgot to add that his post was inspired by Cate at !! Thank you Cate!

Thank you for all the comments!! I love hearing your stories!! Please tell me about your experience. ❤ ❤

6 thoughts on “Can you be addicted to wheat?

  1. I will admit that my initial thoughts were, “nah, there’s no way.” But all the things you described are things I’m *very* aware of in myself as far behaviors. Fresh dipping bread is something I crave as much as chocolate, sometime even more so. You’ve given me a few things to think about here, (and many links to follow later) thank you. Keep on rocking the gluten free life. 🙂

  2. Interesting. I’m definitely not addicted to wheat. After discovering that wheat was a migraine trigger for me (On wheat: 10-15 days of headaches a month, many very severe; Off: 2-3 very mild), there’s not a wheat delicacy in the world that will tempt me back, ever.

    Maybe that’s like you say, due to focusing on my recovery instead of the deliciousness I’m missing out on. Maybe it’s just a different body chemistry.

  3. An amazing post! I knew from my psychology class in college that chocolate had opiate like qualities but didn’t know that about wheat! This is so fascinating and so well explained! Coming off wheat a little less than a year ago, I remember all too plainly the brain fog, anger and depression I had a few weeks after my last hamburger ;). The brain fog was the hardest, especially at work. I’m so glad you’ve come to such a good place with wheat and I think we see it the exact same way: “rat poison!” So inspiring!

  4. That is a very good point. It constantly amazes me how everybody seems to have a different set of reactions to wheat. Ugh – migraines are awful! I’m so glad you got them figured out! I got a lot of migraines too, but they were triggered by dairy so I thought that was it – but since I quit wheat I can have dairy no problem! Since quitting even trace amounts of gluten I’ve hardly had a headache, which is stunning for me ^.^

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