Can You Suffer from Sugar Addiction? Signs, Health Risks and Treatment

Last Updated: May 22, 2024

Dr. Ash Bhatt Reviewed by Dr. Ash Bhatt
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Sweeteners have been part of the human diet for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Greeks, who used honey as food and for medicinal purposes.

With the industrialization of sugar cane production in the 18th and 19th centuries, sugar overshadowed honey. It became a popular ingredient in a variety of products, contributing to sugar addiction and the normalization of added sugar in the American diet.

In 2017–2018, the average daily intake of added sugars among US adults aged 20 years and older was 17.1 teaspoons, far exceeding the recommended limits of less than 9 teaspoons for men and 6 for women. This level of sugar consumption has led to common health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Read on to learn about this peculiar addiction, its signs, health risks and how to quit.

What is Sugar Addiction?

Addiction to non-substances like sugar has yet to be medically accepted as a medical condition in the same way as drug addiction.

An addiction to sugar is considered since limited evidence suggests sugar and sweetness can trigger cravings and rewards similar to addictive drugs.

This addiction is a perceived dependency on sugar or sugary foods, consisting of cravings, compulsive consumption and difficulty controlling intake. When reducing sugar intake, sugar addicts often report withdrawal-like symptoms such as irritability, headaches, fatigue, and mood swings.

Signs of Sugar Addiction

As sugar is a potentially addictive ingredient, it’s important to have proposed criteria or signs that may indicate a problematic relationship with sugar. These criteria are not medically supported, but some sugar addiction symptoms include:

  • Intense cravings or a strong desire to consume sugary foods or beverages
  • Difficulty controlling intake of sugary foods
  • Overconsumption or binge eating
  • Experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms when cutting back on sugar intake
  • Needing to consume increasing amounts of sugar over time
  • Continuing to consume sugary foods despite health problems

Health Risks of Sugar Overconsumption

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to a range of health issues, including childhood and adult obesity, Crohn’s disease, metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, depression, cognitive decline, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, colon cancer and dental cavities.

The following chart summarizes the most common health conditions associated with a potential sugar addiction:

Health Risk Condition Medical Details
Obesity Weight gain and obesity due to its high-calorie content and lack of nutritional value.
Type 2 Diabetes Insulin resistance is a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular Disease Increased risk of heart disease, including hypertension, high cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis.
Dental Decay The growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Accumulation of fat in the liver, a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Metabolic Syndrome Cluster of conditions increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Cognitive Decline Potential impaired cognitive function and increased risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
Depression and Anxiety Diet high in sugar increases risk of depression and anxiety disorders.
Crohn’s Disease Increased risk of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the digestive tract.
Colon Cancer Development of colon cancer, a malignancy of the large intestine.

How Much Sugar is OK?

Sugar intake significantly varies across countries. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting daily free sugar intake to no more than 10% of total dietary intake, with better health outcomes associated with a reduction to 5% (approximately 25 grams or 6 teaspoons.)
Free sugars such as monosaccharides (glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (sucrose, table sugar) are added to foods and beverages, honey, syrups, and fruit juice concentrates. Another significant portion of daily sugar intake comes from “hidden” sources in processed foods, i.e., one tablespoon of ketchup contains approximately 1 teaspoon of free sugars.

Fruit juice is also a source of free sugars but provides vitamins and minerals. Consuming them per dietary guidelines doesn’t raise the health risks associated with high sugar intake. For processed foods, the best recommendation is to read the labels and ingredients.

Do You Need Detox from Sugar Addiction?

If you are experiencing one or more of the signs of a potential addiction to sugar, it does not necessarily mean you are addicted to sugar. Occasional cravings for sugary foods can be normal.

Yet, if you or someone you know has a negative relationship with sugar, a “sugar detox” may be needed. This process is not a drug detox and only typically involves eliminating or significantly reducing added sugars, accompanied by whole, nutrient-dense foods. Abruptly cutting out sugar can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Sugar Addiction − Treatment and Final Considerations

Addiction to sugar may not be considered a medical condition like substance dependency. Still, its side effects, such as obesity and diabetes, are affecting the lives of millions of children and adults.

Health professionals first recommend addressing the underlying emotional or psychological factors that may lead to sugar overconsumption. Strategies may include mindful eating, behavior modification techniques, recognizing triggers and healthy coping mechanisms under the support of healthcare professionals. Long-term success requires sustainable lifestyle changes and ongoing support.

People Also Ask

What does sugar addiction feel like?

Sugar addiction may manifest as intense cravings, compulsive consumption, and difficulty controlling intake. Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, fatigue and mood swings may occur when attempting to reduce sugar intake.

How do I break my addiction to sugar?

Gradually reduce sugar intake, read labels, choose whole foods, stay hydrated, manage stress and prioritize sleep. Incorporate balanced meals and snacks to stabilize blood sugar levels and seek support from a healthcare professional or dietitian if needed.

How do I stop craving sweets?

To stop craving sweets, eat balanced meals with protein, fiber, and healthy fats, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, manage stress and opt for naturally sweet foods like fruits in moderation.

Is sugar as addictive as drugs?

Available evidence suggests that sugar can induce reward and craving comparable to addictive drugs. Recent research indicates sugar may even be more rewarding than drugs like cocaine.

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Page Sources

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Retrieved on April 03. 2024.

Published on: July 11th, 2016

Updated on: May 22nd, 2024

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