Sugar Addiction: Can it Happen to You?

The average American consumes about 66 pounds of added sugar per year.  This is around three times the recommended limit by the American Heart Association: no more than six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men. Added sugars are more dangerous than naturally-occurring sugars (such as in fruits).

Why is Consuming Too Much Added Sugar Dangerous?

Many surprising food and drink items contain sugar. It’s important to read the labels on everything, because sugar sneaks in when you least expect it. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed food labels to differentiate between added sugars and total sugars.  Things to remember about sugar: 

Sugar Addiction
These cupcakes look delectable, but too much sugar can be very harmful.
  • Calories are calories. Sugar isn’t necessarily more fattening than anything else with calories, but it’s very calorie-dense. The more calories that you consume, the more likely you will gain weight. This may lead to obesity, which has its own plethora of problems including: higher risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease, gallbladder disease, depression, certain cancers, diabetes and body pain, among many others.
  • Consuming added sugar-rich foods may curb a person’s appetite for a while, but because of this, the sugar-rich foods may replace nutritious foods that a person’s body needs for basic functions. 
  • Consuming too much added sugar can cause addiction.

About Sugar Addiction

An addiction is defined as “a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences,” by the American Psychiatric Association. Does sugar addiction fall into the same category as a drug or alcohol problem? This question is of much debate in the healthcare community. Some evidence does suggest that a sugar addiction is, in fact, very real. The National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health supplies evidence that supports the theory that “in some circumstances, intermittent access to sugar can lead to behavior and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse.”

Additionally, they recall recent research using PET and MRI scans that supports that many eating behaviors may be analogous in the brain to drug addiction.

Experiments formulated by Neuropharmacologist Paul Kenny, Ph.D., at the Scripps Research Institute showed that rats continued to consume sugary and fatty foods even with painful outcomes. When it came to foods high in sugar and fat (like cheesecake), an electric shock didn’t deter them. Researchers then replaced the high-fat, high-sugar diet with healthier foods, which the rats simply refused to eat after becoming accustomed to the unhealthy diet.

What Does it All Mean?

It may still be up for debate about whether sugar addiction should fall into the same category as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. However, consuming sugar (especially in large quantities) does cause very real physiological changes in the brain. Like a drug or alcohol addiction, someone addicted to sugar will crave increasingly more sugar as time goes on. In the same vein, like a drug or alcohol addiction, there is help for sugar addiction.