Skip to content

Is Sugar Really As Addictive As Cocaine?

Could you be a sugar addict?

Let’s face it, if you’ve struggled to restrain yourself from polishing off your Easter eggs then you’re not alone. But does this make you a sugar addict?

 

Sugar Is As Addictive As Cocaine’ and ‘Sugar Addiction Is Just Like Drug Abuse’ are just some of the scary headlines that have been thrown about over the last few years. In fact, everywhere you turn someone seems to be talking about 'sugar addiction'.

Interestingly enough, sugar and drugs of abuse stimulate the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for the 'reward' response. It basically makes us feel good, and can make us want to stimulate that system again. But whilst the sugar addiction concept is extremely compelling, there are a number of reasons to exercise caution in this notion...

 

The Dopamine Response is Different to Drugs

Sugar, like drugs, does trigger the release of dopamine, which could underlie its profound reinforcing qualities. However, there is a key difference: the repeated exposure to drugs can lead to tolerance. This basically means that you need more and more of that drug in order to get the same effect. But unlike drugs, dopamine release quickly returns to its original levels after repeated administration of sugar.1

It’s also important to remember that whilst sugar triggers the dopamine response, so do things like winning, hugging someone, having a lovely hot shower, a gift that you really like, exercising and even listening to highly pleasurable music. 

 

A Lack of Human Research Around Sugar Addiction

The theory that sugar is addictive is largely based on evidence from feeding studies conducted in rats. One commonly cited study looked into giving laboratory rats a choice between normal rat food and sugared water. The rats would binge on the sugared water and there was an increase in dopamine levels in response to this sugared water - just like in a cocaine addiction.

However, it’s important to note that these findings cannot be directly applied to the eating patterns of humans, which are much more complex than those of most animals. In fact, the results of the limited human studies are largely conflicting. 

 

Addiction-like behaviours may be down to food restriction and deprivation 

These rat studies showed that addiction and binge-like behaviours occurred when the rats were exposed to sugar solutions after long periods of food deprivation. However, if you allowed them to have sugar whenever they want it - which is really how we consume it - the addictive properties vanish.2-3

Any type of excessive food restriction may result in bingeing, therefore it’s difficult to confirm if the rats were seeking for sugar due to hunger or a genuine ‘withdrawal’. 

 

We rarely consume sugar in isolation 

When do you ever see people spooning sugar into their mouths? We rarely consume sugar in isolation, and it is usually a combination of sugar and fat such as chocolate that have hyper-palatable qualities. 

If someone was really addicted, do a banana or neat sugar have the same satisfying properties as a piece of cake?  

 

What does this mean for us?

The current research as it stands is not strong enough to back up the claims that state that sugar is an addictive substance.4  In fact, it’s pretty normal to like sweets and chocolate as they are both highly palatable and rewarding foods. When something tastes good it can be hard to stop.

Saying this, as a population, we could all do with less sugar within the diet. But is the answer really to label ourselves as ‘sugar addicts’? Following a complete abstinence diet or buying into ‘sugar detoxes’ may backfire. It’s psychologically proven that humans may crave or binge on foods they are totally ‘forbidden’ from having.

Rather than labelling sugar as the addictive substance, it’s also important to look at other possible underlying factors that can be addressed with psychological or nutritional guidance. Relying on food to manage emotions, binge eating disorder or even an ‘eating addiction’ are all potential areas which should be taken into consideration.

Lastly, if you haven’t yet heard of intuitive or mindful eating, do so now! This tool is a great way to change our mindset around hyper-palatable food such as chocolate and can minimise those feelings of loss of control and compulsions to overeat.

 

References

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154616300638

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174153/

  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6

 

Related Products.

You might also like.

What Is A Calorie Deficit Diet: Benefits, How To & Does it Work?

LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS LATEST NEWS

12 May 2024

What Is A Calorie Deficit Diet: Benefits, How To & Does it Work?

What Is A Calorie Deficit Diet: Benefits, How To & Does it Work?  The energy deficit diet, also known as a calorie deficit diet, is a scientifically backed dietary...

READ MORE
Top Wellbeing Tips From Wholistic Wellness Expert Naomi Buff
04 May 2024

Top Wellbeing Tips From Wholistic Wellness Expert Naomi Buff

Make peace with your plate for a happy healthy mind!    Have you heard the phrase, “you are what you eat?”    In simple terms, if we eat high...

READ MORE
10 YEARS FROM THE TUB TO THE TOP (Well almost)
29 April 2024

10 YEARS FROM THE TUB TO THE TOP (Well almost)

Well it's been almost 10 years to the day since we sold our first juice out of an old cast iron bathtub in Old street station. I can’t tell...

READ MORE

Cart

Your cart is currently empty.

30

Plant Diversity Tracker

Select options