Why Is Sugar Addiction A Problem?
From cupcakes to pies to iced coffee drinks, sugar is found in many foods and is almost impossible to avoid. Emotional or psychological dependence on sugary foods and drinks, also known as sugar addiction, is a very real cause for concern among health officials in America. Processed foods and refined grains create additional sugar in the body once the body metabolizes the food. Sugar in moderation is not harmful; however, many overdo it. A recent study suggests Americans eat far too much sugar. To be specific, approximately 75% of Americans eat excess amounts of sugar — many of whom could be classified as having a sugar addiction.
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How Do People Develop A Sugar Addiction?
Sugar consumption can create a short-term high and a spark of energy in the body. Some studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as Cocaine. People often enjoy the dopamine release that sugar brings. But due to the addictive nature of sugar, long-term health effects like obesity and diabetes are a risk of sugar overindulgence. Similar to other compulsions or behavioral addictions, sugar addiction is a special risk for people with low moods, anxiety, and stress.
Additionally, people who suffer from constant tiredness may reach for carb-rich sugary foods for a boost. Sugar releases endorphins in the body and combines with other chemicals in the body, resulting in a surge of energy. Once someone mentally connects sugar with help providing energy, they may become dependent on it (usually inadvertently). People may begin to crave sugar to balance irritability, emotional lows, and other conditions. At this point there is often little control over dietary habits, and a sugar addiction has developed.
Signs Of A Sugar Addiction
Unlike many other substance use disorders or behavioral compulsions, sugar addiction is often easy to spot. The clearest signs of sugar addiction involve consumption of large amounts of food or drinks laden with sugar. The individual may eat constantly, eat to combat boredom, and become hyper and crash. They may even talk about craving sugar after stressful or irritating life experiences.
Sugar Addiction And Emotional Eating
People may find sugar’s ability to provide instant energy, combined with the good taste of sugary foods, enticing. Sugar provides some with a “quick fix” during a long and stressful day. People who are enduring breakups or other emotionally stressful situations often turn to chocolate or pints of ice cream to comfort themselves during the difficult time. However, those who turn to sugar to deal with emotional issues are more likely to become addicted. Other indications of sugar addiction for emotional relief are weight gain and difficulty focusing on daily responsibilities. These side effects can damage self-esteem, cause feelings of helplessness, and lower self-worth; this in turn leads to more sugar consumption and a more severe addiction.
Sugar Addiction And Binge Eating
A particularly worrisome aspect of sugar addiction is binge eating. Binge eating is eating too much and too rapidly followed by feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust. This can include a focus on sweets for the same mood-regulating and self-medicating effects of binge eating non-sugary foods. It is critical to remember that food, especially sugar, is a short-term fix for emotional conditions. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and using food as a crutch, consider therapy or rehab.
Sugar Addiction And Anxiety
Anxiety and sugar craving have a direct relationship. Eating disorders like binge eating or anorexia occur for underlying reasons. Often times, the person suffering from such disorders is struggling for psychological and emotional reasons. Stress eating is common example of the relationship between eating disorders and anxiety, and sugar consumption is commonly associated with stress eating.
Anxiety causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released in the body, which can suppress appetite in some. On the other hand, the stress may encourage people who already like sugar into more cravings. When sugar addiction co-occurs with eating to soothe anxiety, the end result is typically weight gain. Despite sugar initially boosting serotonin levels in the brain, sugar can worsen anxiety as sugar lows create feelings of fatigue and depression.
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Sugar Addiction And Alcoholism
There is a surprising genetic link between children of parents who abuse alcohol and sugar addiction. A recent study confirmed dopamine receptors in the brain light up when sugar is consumed, similar to the receptors lighting up in the brain of someone who abuses alcohol. This can encourage people who struggle with sweets to develop alcoholism.
Alcohol-dependent individuals have a higher preference for sweets and experience sugar cravings and sugar withdrawals. The genes in parents who abuse alcohol, as well as their preference for sugar, can be passed down to their children. As a result, the child may have a predisposition to both of these compulsions.
Many who eliminate sugar from their diet find themselves experiencing withdrawal symptoms of irritability, fogginess, moodiness, and low energy. Since many struggling with sugar addiction have binged on sugary foods, withdrawal and cravings can be intense. Tragically, many choose to go back to eating sugary foods for the chemical release in the brain. A much better alternative is to do a dietary swap, whereby the sugar user exchanges unhealthy sweets for natural and healthy options to regain control.
There Is Hope For You
Change begins with realizing that there is a problem with one’s sugar addiction. Modifying one’s diet and practicing self-control can help, but going cold turkey isn’t ideal. Someone with a sugar addiction, especially if they have another substance abuse disorder or a co-occurring mental health condition, will likely have difficulty in ridding themselves of cravings. If you or someone you know has a sugar addiction, especially if complicating factors are present, please contact a treatment provider today to find out more about your options.
Krystina Murray has received a B.A. in English at Georgia State University, has over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience, and over 15 years of overall writing experience. She enjoys traveling, fitness, crafting, and spreading awareness of addiction recovery to help people transform their lives.
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- Conason, Alexis. (2012). Sugar Addiction. Retrieved on 5th December 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/201204/sugar-addiction
- Healthline Plus. (2018). Is Sugar an Addictive Drug? Retrieved on 5th December 2018 from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug
- WebMD. (2018). Sugar Addiction Facts: Cravings, Hidden Sugar, and More in Pictures. Retrieved on 5th December 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-sugar-addiction
Certified Addiction Professional
Deborah Montross Nagel
Deborah has a Master’s Degree from Lesley University and has been certified as an Addictions Counselor in PA since 1986. She is currently a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor – CAADC. She is nationally certified as a MAC – Master Addictions Counselor – by NAADAC (The National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors). Her 37 years of experience and education are in addiction, recovery, and codependency. Addiction affects the entire system around the addict. There is no "bad guy" in the system. Fight the addiction, and help the addict. I help loved ones restore sanity to their lives and hence encourage change. Recovery is possible!
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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.