Can You Really Be Addicted To Sugar?

Though “sugar” probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think of substance abuse or substance withdrawal, addiction to sugar and other processed food is a major issue in American health. 

Professionals suggest that less than ten percent of a person’s daily calorie intake should come from added sugar, but a full 75 percent of Americans regularly exceed that amount. Over 40 percent of American adults are obese, and extra calories from sugar are a huge driver of this pressing health issue. Sugar is calorie-dense, easy to overconsume, and offers our bodies little benefit, and it can displace healthier vitamin and nutrient-rich foods in our diet.

As is enumerated in the studies linked to in the source section below, sugar has been empirically associated with excess weight as well as with illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis, as well as with poor dental health. It has been shown to have mildly toxic and mildly inflammatory effects, to cause damage to our metabolisms, and even to be associated with mental health disorders like depression. Since some people may then try to cope with their depression by binge eating or overeating sugary foods, the whole thing could create a horrible feedback loop. 

All of these problems are compounded by sugar’s empirically addictive nature. One recent study found that sugar “can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs,” and that rats in some addiction studies would choose sugar over cocaine. 

This is likely because we have a strong biological drive to consume sugar left over from the days when energy sources were far scarcer. Sugar thus causes our brain to release powerful natural rewards in the form of neurotransmitters like dopamine and our natural opioids—the very same ones that can cause addiction. 

Other addiction-like phenomena that have been reported with excess sugar intake include that of an energetic “high” that we can experience when we consume a sugary treat followed by a lower energy “crash.” 

Signs Of Sugar Withdrawal

Some studies showed that rats exhibited physical withdrawal symptoms like teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head-shaking when they were forced to abruptly stop consuming excess sugar. And many humans find that they experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to “detox” from sugar as well. Because they are experienced by people who are transitioning on to the low-sugar keto diet, these symptoms are also sometimes known as the keto flu. 

Symptoms of sugar withdrawal can include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Cognitive issues or difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for both sweet foods and other carbohydrate high foods
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Constipation or diarrhea 

Benefits Of Quitting Sugar

Depending on how much sugar you were consuming and how quickly you reduce your intake, these symptoms could last from a few days to a couple of weeks. But, there is some good news; once you are able to significantly reduce your sugar intake, you are likely to experience many benefits to your physical and mental health. You might have more energy, a better mood, better concentration, and better sleep. 

You might find that you lose weight or have better skin, and you will likely be improving your heart health, cholesterol levels, and systemic inflammation, thus reducing your risk of many chronic diseases. 

Tips On Lowering Your Sugar Intake 

If you believe you are addicted to sugar, you may want to lower your sugar intake gradually to avoid an abrupt and physically uncomfortable withdrawal. For instance, you could start by just cutting out soda or cutting back on dessert, and then move on to weeding out more insidious sources of sugar in your diet. 

These sources may include many you wouldn’t expect, since added sugar can be downright insidious in the American diet, including in foods like salad dressing, pasta sauces, breakfast cereals, granola bars, and packaged fruits. You may also want to avoid low fat foods, which are often filled with added sugar to compensate for the flavor lost when the fat content of the food was reduced. 

Other helpful tips for reducing your sugar intake include:

  • Try replacing sugary treats with other rewards, like unsweetened coffee or tea. A hot bath is another indulgent treat that might also reduce your sugar cravings by increasing mood-boosting neurotransmitter levels. 
  • Eat frequent protein and fiber-rich meals. This will help regulate blood sugar, keeping you full and satisfied so you are less tempted to indulge in sugary food.
  • Avoid sleep deprivation and stress, both of which can also trigger sugar cravings.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce sugar craving as well as to provide plenty of its own benefits to your physical and mental health. 
  • Try to avoid alcohol. Beer and wine contain sugar themselves, and liquor is often mixed with sugary juices and sodas. Alcohol can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar, and might also lower your inhibitions and thus your resolve to stick to a healthier diet. 
  • Not all sugar is inherently bad for you; your body does need some sugar to help you maintain your energy levels. If a sugar craving becomes irresistible, reach for a piece of fruit, which will come with healthy fiber and other nutrients that will lessen the sugar’s negative impact. 

Our helpline can provide you with information on how you can get treatment for many different kinds of addiction and withdrawal, even behavioral addictions or addictions to things like sugar that are not traditionally thought of as “substances.” To learn more, feel free to reach out to us at (833) 489-5577.


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