Sugar Addiction – Is It Real?

Some experts debate if sugar addiction is really a thing at all – but, doctors have found that some behaviors when eating sugar resemble other types of addictions, where chemicals in the brain make the body crave the substance. This may result in causing uncontrolled reactions when seeing, smelling, or tasting sugar-containing foods. There also seems to be a connection between sugar addiction and parental alcohol use disorder.

According to an article in the European Journal of Nutrition, food addiction (such as addiction to sugar) can have some aspects that are very similar to addiction to drugs, gambling, or alcohol. It is also similar to social media addiction. Some of the symptoms that sugar and other addictions may have in common include:

  • Loss of control over how much consumed
  • Evidence of strong cravings or withdrawals
  • Continuing to take or eat a substance, despite negative consequences which arise

Sugary foods are a common addiction when it comes to food consumption. This is because sugary foods are often high fat, which can trigger some of the feel-good chemicals in the body that can promulgate craving sweets. Studies performing imaging on the brain found that eating sugar-rich foods increase dopamine levels in different parts of the brain.

Taking care of yourself, learning life skills, and addressing underlying mental health issues can be effective ways to combat sugar addiction.

Sugar Addiction and Alcoholism

A research study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a high proportion of people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs are more likely to also be addicted to sugar.2 The study’s authors found that when sugar is eaten, some pathways of neurotransmitter release. These feelings of reward in the brain are similar to when alcohol is consumed.

Why are Children of Alcoholics More Likely to Develop a Sugar Addiction?

The same article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that children of people with alcohol use disorders  (especially fathers who struggle with alcohol addictions) are more likely to have stronger cravings for sweets and have preferences for sweets compared with children of parents who don’t struggle with alcohol.

Researchers think there may be some genes similar in families that show a preference for sweets as well as addictive substances such as alcohol and drugs.

Why Does Sugar Replace Alcohol in Recovery?

According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, several studies have found those in recovery from alcohol report experiencing significant sugar cravings while in addiction recovery.

The reason for this may be biological. The body turns alcohol into sugar. Suddenly ceasing alcohol consumption causes blood sugar levels to drop. As a result, the body starts to crave more and more sugar. The consumption of high-sugar foods is a way to curb those cravings. Also, because sugar increases dopamine release in the brain, a very temporary high can be achieved that can resemble an alcohol high.

Because high-sugar foods aren’t usually nutritious and often cause a blood sugar crash that can make a person recovering from alcohol addiction start to feel low and fatigued, most doctors don’t recommend eating a lot of sugary foods during recovery. Instead, they suggest eating the following:

  • Whole-grain foods
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy sources of fats, such as nuts and avocados3

Those who’ve struggled with alcohol abuse in the past often have a lot of nutritional deficiencies. A nutritionist should be consulted to get advice on a return to healthy eating.

Signs, Withdrawal, and Treatment


Doctors know that binge eating disorder, or the consumption of significant amounts of food without control over the quantity or type of food, shares many symptoms in common with sugar addiction. Binge eating may lead to isolation and deep guilt after the fact.

A common misconception about sugar addiction and binge eating disorder is that those who suffer are probably overweight. This is not true, as a large proportion of those who engage in binge eating disorders aren’t overweight, according to an article in the European Journal of Nutrition.

However, sugar addiction isn’t exactly like binge eating disorder, nor is it like drug use. On average, strong cravings for most drugs last long-term, whereas sugar addiction symptoms can be short-term cravings that can subside more quickly.


A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found rats who were fed sugar experienced withdrawal symptoms that sometimes were similar to that of opioid withdrawal. Examples include the following:
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle tremors or shakes
  • Strong cravings for drugs
  • Teeth chattering

While these are animal studies, these symptoms may be experienced by humans, along with behavioral changes, such as increased hostility, due to sugar withdrawals.


There are several methods which can be utilized to kick sugar cravings. These include the following:

Make healthy foods and snacks easily accessable: Examples include nuts, trail mix, dried fruits, turkey, or even pre-made snack packs that you can quickly grab.

Engage in physical activity: This distracts the brain with another activity and can help to reduce sugar cravings.

Drink plenty of water: Being hydrated can reduce cravings for sugar.

Satisfy a sweet tooth: Healthier alternative options can be satisfying, such as a ripe and juicy piece of fruit.

Get plenty of rest: Well-rested, healthy bodies are more able to resist sugar cravings.

Develop a meal plan: The consumption of frequent, small meals keeps blood sugar levels up.It’s typically recommended to develop a plan with a dietitian or nutritionist to suit your individual needs.


Doctors aren’t sure that sugar addiction is a large problem, but they have identified some similarities between chemicals released in the brain upon the consumption of sugar and using drugs or alcohol. They also know those who struggle with addiction are more likely to be sugar-seeking.

If you have a problem controlling how much sugary foods you eat, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can recommend nutrition steps that can help.

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