27th June, 2017

Sugar Addiction

Overview, Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

Like other kinds of addictions that are not caused by drug abuse, sugar addiction has been highly discussed as an issue that may or may not be an actual medical condition. While drug and alcohol addiction are subject to medical treatment because they cause tolerance, dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and drug-seeking behavior, they also are defined by the fact that, even though an individual is harmed by them in different aspects of their life, the person is unable to quit abusing the drug.

Sugar can actually cause several of these issues in individuals who are constantly eating foods and consuming substances that are high in this ingredient. Sugar addicts experience many problems with stopping their overuse of the substance, and some may even become physically unhealthy as a result. While sugar addiction is not as well understood or medically regulated as drug addiction is, there are still ways to identify and treat this issue.

Overview

addicted to sugar

Sugar is an addictive substance, and treatment can help you overcome your cravings.

According to a study from the NCBI, “It is well established that addictive drugs activate DA-containing neurons in areas of the brain that process behavior reinforcement.” The study goes on to state, “A variety of foods can release DA in the NAc, including lab chow, sugar, saccharin, and corn oil.” There are some similarities between the way sugar and drugs affect the brain, and “sugar is one such food” that releases both DA and opioids when consumed.

As stated by Harvard Health, “The average 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda delivers about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar.” It is no surprise how the average person can become addicted to a substance that is all around them constantly and easily and often consumed in large quantities.

Sugar addiction can occur without a person really realizing it. Because drug abuse is often done with the intent to get high, most addicted individuals realize what they are doing. Sugar addicts, however, might not know that they have become addicted to the substance and may just believe that their diet is unhealthy but that they can change it any time they want. If they are truly addicted, they won’t likely be able to make changes (or even want to), leading to more problems.

Sugar Addiction Signs

How do you know if your loved one is addicted to sugar? It can be difficult to tell for sure, but there are a few signs that point to the use of sugar being an actual uncontrollable addiction and not just a food of enjoyment. These signs are:

  • Bingeing 
    • If the person you are concerned for happens to binge eat sugary products every day or very often, they are likely addicted. A person who eats too much sugar every once in a while is probably not experiencing true addiction, but “the escalation of intake with a high proportion of intake at one time, usually after a period of voluntary abstinence or forced deprivation” points to an addiction as opposed to a mere one-time binge episode.
  • Withdrawal 
    • Like opioids and other drugs, sugar can cause withdrawal symptoms if an individual who is addicted to it suddenly no longer has access to sugar or tries to completely stop eating sugar. In the NCBI study, tests done on rats are discussed, and “behavioral depression has also been found during naloxone-precipitated withdrawal in intermittent sugar-fed rats.”
    • Another sign of sugar withdrawal could be unusual amounts of aggression or hostility in those who suddenly stop consuming sugar.
    • Anxiety is also common in those who are addicted to sugar and suddenly stop consuming it.
  • Sensitization
    • As another sign of sugar addiction, someone who eats or intakes large amounts of sugar will be very sensitized to the reactions it causes in their body. This results in “increased locomotion” or movement and can usually be observed after a person binges on sugary products. Remember, the bingeing and sensitization should be common actions which you can observe in the individual quite often in order for you to be assured that the individual is actually addicted to sugar.
  • Going to extreme lengths
    • The individual who is addicted to sugar will go to extreme lengths in order to obtain it. If they are in a situation where they are trying to hide their sugar intake from others, they may hide sugary snacks in their room, binge on sugar while at school or work, or take other drastic measures to keep others in the dark about their sugar intake.
    • The person may also only eat sugary foods or spend all of their money on these foods. This can be problematic and, if someone does something like this, it shows the extreme lengths they will go to in order to obtain more sugar.
  • Health concerns 
    • Sugar addicts will likely experience different health concerns from the dangerous amount of sugar that they take in. These health problems, according to the NLM, include:
      • Type 2 diabetes
      • Metabolic syndrome
      • High blood pressure
      • Tooth decay
      • Obesity
      • Constant stomach cramps and diarrhea

An individual who displays the signs listed above may very well be addicted to sugar. If you attempt to discuss this issue with them and they refuse to stop or cut back their sugar intake, the signs of addiction become even stronger. Some individuals may fully intend to stop eating so much sugar but often find that they are not able to do so on their own. This is another strong sign of addiction because it means that the person has lost control over their sugar intake, something that also happens to drug addicts.

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Sugar Addiction Symptoms

How do I know if I am addicted to sugar? According to Penn State News, a substance is addictive if it “induces a pleasant state or relieves distress” and “leads to adaptive changes in the brain that trigger tolerance, physical dependence and uncontrollable cravings” among other things. Sugar can cause these issues, and if you are starting to notice them in your own life, it is likely time to consider the fact that you may need help fighting sugar addiction.

When you ask yourself if you may have a sugar addiction, be sure to ask the right questions. Yes, our bodies, and especially our brains, “depend on glucose to function properly.” So what makes sugar use an addiction?

  • Do you eat more than the recommended amount of sugar every day?
    • According to the NLM, “Women should get no more than 100 calories per day from sugar,” and “men should get no more than 150 calories per day from sugar.”
  • Do you only enjoy eating sugary foods?
  • Do you eat sugary foods or drink beverages high in sugar in order to relieve stress, control anger or sadness, or otherwise cope with the negative feelings in your life?
  • Do you experience irritability, aggression, or depression when you are unable to consume sugar?
  • Have you noticed that your tolerance for sugar has risen to a higher level and that you now need to take in much more sugar than you used to in order to feel the same desired effects?
  • Do you constantly crave sugar?
  • Do you binge on sugar consistently to the point of doing it more than once a week?
  • After you binge, do you feel ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty and still continue to practice the same behavior over and over?
  • Has your life been affected negatively by the amount of sugar you take in, including your health, professional life, personal relationships, or other aspects?
  • Despite these problems, do you still feel that you would not be able to stop consuming as much sugar as you do, even if you wanted to?

If you answered yes to most of the questions above, you are likely dealing with an addiction to sugar. It has become a behavior that you are unable to break, even though it is harmful to you and possibly to others, and you experience tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings as a result.

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