Craving Sweetness: Can Sugar Be More Addictive Than Drugs?

No one expects a substance our parents and grandparents gave us as a reward for good behavior to be an addictive substance. However, sugar affects the brain’s reward center and can be as demanding a craving as a street drug. When sugar is consumed, the brain responds by releasing dopamine. Dopamine plays an important role in addiction. It’s the neurotransmitter associated with the reward center. Whenever dopamine is released, a flush of pleasure is experienced. This is where the “high” comes from that fuels addiction. The more you consume the substance or partake of the activity, the less dopamine is released.

A tolerance for the substance is established and it takes more and more to get that same high. The only way to obtain the same pleasurable feeling the substance once gave you is by consuming it in greater amounts. Loading up on a substance to produce an anticipated high is an accurate description of substance abuse. In studies performed on lab animals, the only time addictive behaviors manifested was when they were denied their supply of sugar. As long as they were allowed to consume as much as they wanted any time they wanted it, they didn’t demonstrate addictive behavior. Their experiences with sugar matched the craving, binge, and withdrawal symptoms exhibited with other addictions.


Sugar Withdrawal

Like other addictive substances, sudden withdrawal from sugar can produce some challenging reactions. Studies conducted on lab animals withdrawing from sugar concluded they experienced withdrawal symptoms like withdrawal from cocaine or other highly addictive drugs. The results showed the addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and experiences of relapse are markedly like withdrawal from other addictive substances.

Sudden withdrawal from sugar can bring on distinct withdrawal symptoms which include:

  1. Severe cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates
  2. Mood shifts and irritable behavior
  3. Depression

The challenges to sugar sobriety don’t go away readily, and the danger of binging can exist for days. Sudden withdrawal from sugar can be dangerous. This is because sugar is a carbohydrate and a severe restriction of carbohydrates in the body can bring on what is known as ketosis. Symptoms of ketosis are headache, fatigue, nausea, and problems in the elimination system like diarrhea and constipation. The symptoms are like the flu and the condition is sometimes nicknamed “keto flu.”

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the withdrawal symptoms. The first order of the day is to make sure the body is sufficiently hydrated. Eating fruit and replacing depleted potassium levels are also helpful.

Signs You Have An Addiction

So, what’s the difference between in individual who simply enjoys a sugary treat and someone who has a full-blown sugar addiction?

  1. With a sugar addiction, moderation is not an available quality. It’s hard to consume it in moderation and easy to go overboard.
  2. Your body not only craves sugar but other carbohydrates, too. You desire loads of fresh bread and pasta.
  3. Surprisingly, a sugar addiction will also up the ante on your meat cravings. The body strives for balance and when too much sugar is consumed, cravings for salty foods or meat will manifest to strike a balance.
  4. You consume sugar beyond the point of normal consumption. In some cases, people with a sugar addiction will literally consume it until they feel ill.
  5. You feel shame about your constant need for sugar and experience feelings of self-loathing.

Sugar Withdrawal: The Better Way

It’s helpful to understand that withdrawing from sugar will carry an individual through a series of stages. Knowing what to expect is important for a successful withdrawal.

With the first step, there is a feeling of motivation to kick the sugar habit once and for all. You feel exhilarated and confident that you are ready and able to accomplish the goal to end your sugar addiction.

The second step heralds a “wake-up call” because that’s when the cravings kick in. Whether the cravings are merely unpleasant or severe depend on the level of sugar addiction present. The desired amount of sugar needed per human each day is between 6 and 9 teaspoons. When you add up the obvious sweets and non-obvious hidden sugar added to foods, the actual intake is over 24 teaspoons or more on a daily basis even for the non-addicted. If the addiction is high, the cravings may surprise you with their intensity.

The third step is the hardest because this is when all the withdrawal symptoms descend. A person going through sugar withdrawal may experience headache, lethargy, diarrhea, intense hunger, and body temperature changes. What’s important to remember during the third step is the fourth step is on its way.

When you enter the fourth step of the sugar withdrawal, the symptom begins to subside. You begin to feel and look better your old energy levels return and your skin starts to look bright and healthy again. You’ll also experience mental clarity and more mental sharpness.

There are ways to get through the unpleasantness sugar withdrawal can bring.

  • Hunger may intensify during withdrawal so make sure you have plenty of healthy fiber on hand to curb the appetite in a healthy and low-calorie way. Along with increased fiber, increase your protein intake, too. The idea is to feel satisfied and not allow hunger to intensify the sugar withdrawal symptoms you’re experiencing.
  • The need for ample hydration can’t be stressed enough. Make sure you drink plenty of water. When the body isn’t properly hydrated, it’s easy to confuse the feeling of hunger with thirst.
  • Plan out your meals and everything you eat beforehand. Don’t allow your diet to be haphazard during this difficult period.
  • Remember the healthy and important reasons you are choosing to kick the sugar addiction and keep your motivation to get through this high.
  • Instead of cold-turkey withdrawal, space out your sugar withdrawal. Begin by replacing sugar with natural sweeteners in your foods and beverages. Slowly weed out all the sugar-sweetened products you consume. Replace sugary snacks with fruit or high fiber treats. Next, cut down on highly processed foods. These products often contain an abundance of hidden sugars and carbohydrates and contribute to the problem.

Withdrawal Motivations: Good Reasons To Get Over Sugar

Despite its deceptively delicious taste, sugar can have a poisonous effect on your health. Excess sugar intake can manifest in serious health problems including heart disease and diabetes. A study found a link between a high-sugar diet and risk of death by heart disease. The results showed people whose intake of sugar was up to 20 percent higher than counterparts who consumed less sugar had a 38 percent increased chance of death by cardiovascular disease. With this in mind, there is a great incentive to end the addiction and focus on less sugar in our diets.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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