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Why is Sugar Considered a Drug?

Why is Sugar Considered a Drug?

Any substance that we use for pleasure can be an addiction—this includes sugar. Research shows that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, and sugar works much like many addictive drugs in that it affects the brain’s limbic system, the part of the brain that’s associated with emotional control. In today’s blog, we will discuss the issue and get expert opinions.


Addiction to Sugar

Brain scans show that intermittent sugar consumption affects the brain much like certain drugs, so the next time you crave something sweet, it may be more than just a sweet tooth: it could be an addition you need to address. In the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, it found that sugar meets the criteria for a substance of abuse, and those who binge on it could be addicted. 

Food addiction is plausible since brain pathways have evolved to respond to natural rewards and therefore become activated by addictive drugs. A study from Science Direct concluded that sugar releases opioids, and dopamine, therefore, could have this addictive potential. There were four components of sugar addiction analyzed, including:

  • Bingeing
  • Withdrawal
  • Craving
  • Cross-sensitization

These components were demonstrated behaviorally with sugar bingeing being the reinforcer, and are related to neurochemical changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs. Under certain circumstances, rats can become addicted to sugar, which may translate to some human conditions that may include eating disorders and obesity.


Statistics on Sugar

Apparently, according to health officials, the addiction to sugar is concerning. The American Heart Association cited research showing sugary soft drinks are responsible for 180,000 deaths worldwide annually. Because of this, they recommend that adults consume less than 450 calories per week of sugar-sweetened beverages; this means no more than two 20-oz bottles of soda.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that the average American derives about 13 percent of their daily caloric intake from added sugars. Men get about 335 calories per day average while women get about 239 additional calories per day. Although soda is an easy scapegoat, foods contain added sugars without a person’s knowledge of them. Processed foods, salad dressings, and even spaghetti sauce can contain upwards of 9 to 10 grams of sugar or more.


Sugar Withdrawal

When someone goes on a diet and eliminates sugar from their diet, they can experience the same type of withdrawal a person who abuses drugs can experience, including:

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings
  • Cognitive issues
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness or dizziness

These are just the listed symptoms, and you may not experience all of these, but just as you would quit any drug, it might be better to wean off sugar. You can quit cold turkey, and it wouldn’t harm you like quitting a drug or alcohol would, so it’s up to you. 


Limit the Side Effects

To help limit some of the symptoms of sugar detox, you may want to try eating more protein to avoid hunger and low energy levels that would typically have you grabbing a candy bar. Also, increase your dietary fiber to control blood sugar and prevent headaches and nausea. Drinking more water is great, and when tempted to eat something sweet, drinking a glass of water can keep cravings down.

Avoid artificial sweeteners since they can cause more cravings and dependence. Plus, other ingredients may cause physical or mental issues, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. Managing your stress by doing yoga, meditation, exercising, or doing something pleasurable and calming. Sleep is integral to helping with side effects of sugar detox, so aim to get at least 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep. 


Ardu Recovery Center Is Here

For help with addiction, our recovery center is available for those who need it. Often addiction is part of something bigger, and getting treatment can help change behavioral patterns and habits. Contact us for help, and let us help you overcome your addiction and take back your health and your life.