Sugar Addiction: Facts And Figures One Needs To Know

Last Updated: January 15, 2021

Sugar is everywhere in almost all of the food people eat in one form or the other. It’s in all the expected foods, but one might not realize it’s also in a lot of other food where one would not expect it. Our daily intake of sugar averages 95 grams which might not sound like a lot, but that adds up to about 77 pounds per year. The American heart association recommends a daily intake of 36 grams for an adult male, 20 grams for an adult female and 12 grams for kids. But with the level of sugar intake currently, a lot of people are already way over the limit. As a result, obesity has become a major issue with 1 in 3 adults and 2 in 5 kids showing various degrees of it.

Is Sugar Addictive?

Yes, sugar can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol and is very difficult to avoid due to its presence and addition to many food items. Consuming, or even just thinking about, sugar can stimulate the brain and release dopamine into the system.
Sugar not only tastes good but is also potentially addictive. Consuming or even thinking about sugar can trigger a dopamine release, a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure and reward-motivated behavior, into the system. Studies have shown that sugar can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol. It is, however, more difficult to avoid sugar as there are thousands of packaged food items in grocery stores today with about 80 percent of them containing added sugars. The main problem, however, comes from what people drink and not what they eat. Drinking a single one of any of today’s popular beverages is already over the daily recommendation. The average can of soda contains about 40 grams of added sugar, while bottles have around 42 grams and one Starbucks coffee contains about 47 grams of added sugars.

Sugar Withdrawal And Detox Symptoms

When people quit sugar, physiological changes occur. Within hours the hormonal levels change. The levels of insulin will start to decrease, allowing the body to access stored fats to burn for energy. After a few days, lipid levels start to drop, especially triglycerides. Over a prolonged period, palate changes, and things that used to taste normal, later taste unpleasantly sweet and palate adjust to require a lot less sugar to feel satisfied. These are some of the benefits one will experience after quitting sugar but not before going through a withdrawal phase.

What are the symptoms of sugar withdrawal?

The following withdrawal symptoms of sugar addiction may manifest as early as 24 hours after quitting sugar intake:

  • Cravings
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Gas and bloating

Overcoming sugar addiction comes with its withdrawal and detox symptoms which a person needs to be aware of, as well as knowing when to expect them and how to manage them. When one removes sugar from the diet, the detox is not necessarily the biggest issue, but the idea that sugar has a drug-like effect on the body. It is a stimulant, and when taken it away, the body has to adjust and adapt accordingly.
These are some of the withdrawal symptoms one can almost definitely expect when detoxing from sugar;


This happens immediately after one goes cold turkey. One will definitely crave sugar as it has silently become a drug of choice. One will crave it and think about it all the time. This is the first sign that the body is dependent on it because as soon as a person removed it from the diet, the body is asking for it back immediately. This is an indication of a major imbalance in the system which should spur one to stay on course.


A complete lack of energy follows shortly after as a result of the absence of the primary energy source. As early as 24 hours after ceasing sugar intake, a person starts to feel this lethargy. One feels like being about to get sick, the body feels heavy, the mind feels dull, and one feels a bit listless and emotionless. A person might even feel a little depressed, depending on how dependent the body was to sugar. There will be some disturbance in mood and probably some issues with thinking clearly and communicating. One needs to stay strong and ride this wave out in the course of detox.


Sugar gives us a temporary boost of energy, and it is similar to a high that makes us happy in the short term. Taking away this source makes our brains react in ways that can manifest as anxiety. According to a 2002 study at Princeton University, this anxiety was observed in rats that were subjects of sugar dependence and withdrawal. Anxiety was manifested in behaviors such as teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shaking.


Perhaps the most common side effect of quitting sugar is the sugar withdrawal headache. It is often recommended to consume small amounts of sugar to relieve the headaches, preferably from fruits. If the headaches are severe, then perhaps quitting cold turkey is not the right choice and one should try a more gradual approach.
Other general symptoms that may arise from quitting sugar are:

  • Muscle pain and aches
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Gas and bloating

What Happens After One Quits Sugar

Within hours after stopping sugar consumption, a body’s hormone levels will change. The insulin levels will start to decrease and allow the body to burn stored fats for energy. After a few days, lipid and triglyceride levels will drop, and taste buds will crave less sugar to feel satisfied. However, one may suffer from many of the side effects listed above.

Don’t Quit Sugar Cold Turkey

The human body relies on many elements of food and drinks to run efficiently; sugar is one of those elements. This is the reason many health professionals do not recommend that a person cuts sugar completely out of the diet when attempting to detox. Instead, they recommend that one reduces sugars to a more refined amount, possibly just eating a little fruit after a meal, for example.

Complete Elimination

Cutting sugar completely out of the diet would not only enhance withdrawal symptoms, but it would also be incredibly unhealthy in the long run. Furthermore, the idea of not having sugar at all can be detrimental to mentality while attempting to detox.

Gradual Elimination

Most people find the best, and most effective way to detox is gradually cutting back. This way, withdrawal symptoms are far less noticeable, and a person is more likely to keep that positive feeling of doing something that is good for the health. This makes it less likely that one will give up the detox completely.
When it comes to methods of cutting back, there are a few ways of approaching the detox. One method is only withdrawing for one day a week, and gradually increasing that by a measure of time every week until one reaches an ideal level of sugar consumption. An alternative method is to add water to drinks. This way, there is a reduction in the amount of sugar with every drink. One can gradually reduce it more and more, eventually replacing sugary drinks altogether with a healthier option.

Dealing With Sugar Withdrawal

Like any kind of withdrawal from an addiction, sugar withdrawal can be a challenge.
A person will go through cravings, irritability, fatigue, and mood swings, to name just a few things. But what is the best way to deal with sugar withdrawal and its symptoms?
One suggestion is a dietary supplement known as glutamine. Glutamine helps to combat sugar withdrawal by providing the body with a replacement for sugar, getting energy from an alternative base. Another suggestion commonly made is to drink lots of water. This will help to stay hydrated and combat some of the cravings.
Generally, the best way to combat sugar withdrawal seems to be keeping the blood sugar levels stable. Replacements for sugar such as almond butter or coconut oil will ensure that one does not suffer a sudden crash in blood sugar levels if one takes a dosage of them every few hours. Alongside the almond butter, a person should maintain a good sleeping and eating pattern. It is also recommended that one does not totally abstain from fruit. Despite its content of natural sugars, the fruit is a vital dietary requirement, and therefore it should still be eaten in moderation. This will help the body to re-adjust to a usual diet and meaning the detox is done as soon as possible in the best possible quality. Furthermore, if a person can eat the fruit in moderation, it will prove to oneself having the willpower to abstain from overindulging in sugar again!

Sugar Withdrawal and Diabetes

Sugar addiction and sugar binging can lead to a range of health conditions, including diabetes. It is also possible that diabetes is what caused addiction to sugar, and for that reason, one needs to restore balance. Regardless of the situation, as with any addiction, it is safer to gradually reduce the dosage. This is the same with sugar. A drastic reduction can enhance withdrawal symptoms and sometimes even be the trigger for diabetes.
If a person does have an addiction to sugar and is looking to get help, one should tell a doctor about any health conditions experienced or any family history of diabetes. This will help a doctor to recommend the best method of cutting down or quitting sugar.
Sugar can be just as addictive and as problematic to withdraw from as any drug. In a world surrounded by advertising for sugar-based products, it can be difficult to recognize what is the right amount of sugar for our bodies and what is too much. Sugar is not only addictive but pleasurable to eat so quitting even temporarily will not be easy.
When attempting withdrawal, a person should always ensure that one does not have to manage the entire process alone, as suffering withdrawal symptoms, just like those of more infamous drugs is not pleasant at all. Support from family, friends, and a doctor will all be important for a successful withdrawal and a life with a more balanced level of sugar intake. There will be headaches, pains, mood swings, maybe even shakes, but in the end, one will feel the benefits of a better diet.

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Published on: July 11th, 2016

Updated on: January 15th, 2021


Leave a comment

  • Nomsa Siqhaza
    What are the beneficial uses of sugar to the body. What are the risk factors of sugar to the health
  • Alex
    I’m going through sugar withdrawal as I type this comment. I’ve been addicted to sugar since I was a kid to manage my crippling depression. I’m now 30. Refined added Sugar is a dangerous drug in the same vein as cocaine. It has only been 48 hours and already I can feel the fog that has been in my head for at least 15 years clearing up. I can see why people who are miserable become addicted to it: it numbs you. If you are constantly being harassed by horrible thoughts and feelings (as people with chronic depression are) it blurs it all. The downside is that it hurts you memory, causes migraine headaches and makes you dumb. Refined Sugar is poison. And everyone in our society is consuming large amounts daily.
    • Diana
      Maybe your depression would be greatly reduced o eliminated with the ketogenic or carnivore diet. Dr heal your gut, kick the sugar, you’ll be feeling great. I had a severe sugar addiction because it made me less depressed when my thyroid medication wasn’t absorbing properly.. it was a vicious cycle ..thankfully, I didn’t put a lot of weight on..
    • Anika
      I’m not against this comment at all, I’m trying to get more information. How does it make you dumb? What happens to cognitive function? Does it affect the prefrontal cortex?
  • Diana
    Go keto or paleo.. even carnivore if you have to to get rid of sugar addiction and depression.. sugar is poison, but as a people are very addicted.
  • Done
    I’ve always joked that I have a sugar addiction, not really taking it seriously. But as I reflect on so many attempts to deal with depression, while maintaining a positive front, and indulging as part of being a social leader and personable go to person; I binge behind closed doors on sugar, and not facing that it is a real addiction, even as I comforted my self that it wasn’t that bad. I am addicted. Heavily, obsessively, and completely. I am addicted to sugar, and now I am struggling with how to deal with the enormity of my addiction. I am reaching out to support groups, and a former sugar addict from my past, I’ve contacted a nutritionist in my insurance group, and I am praying, praying praying, and asking anyone on here who prays to pray for me. I am an addict and I need to overcome this.
  • Kim Smith
    I have a bad sugar addiction. I was only 120 pounds a few years ago, I was diagnosed with severe major depression and in the course of trying to get me stable enough to function I turned to sugar. I now weigh almost 220 pounds, I have congestive heart failure, I am sick and tired all the time, everyday. I have no support system except my N/A group, and that isn’t much support. I dont know what to do. A HUNDRED pounds, in a few months. Makes me wish I wasn’t so scared to die.
    • Fie
      Hi Kim. You can do this! Fight for yourself as much as you can, find support where you can. I have a sugar addiction and I am battling it every day. I have found a friend with the same problem whom I share info and experiences in daily life with. “Sugar Addiction Support Group” on Facebook helped me start the whole journey of going sugar free back in Oct 2018; check it out. I wish you the best of luck – you are NOT alone.
  • April
    Hi, Done. Today is Day 11 for me, off all sugar and refined carbs and sweeteners of any kind and even fruit. We can do this. It’s not easy but I know it’s worth doing. It hit me hardest so far on Day 9, when my body temperature got completely out of whack, I had severe insomnia, nausea, and got quite depressed. I realized I hadn’t enjoyed a single meal in 9 days. Today is better – I did just enjoy my lunch and for the first time didn’t feel sorry for myself that there was no dessert. I’ve had a hard time finding good advice that works for me because most things say to have just a little sugar, or eat a lot of fruit. For me that’s like telling a severe alcoholic to have a little wine with dinner. And most things say that withdrawal symptoms will be gone by day 5. Not so for me. It’s not surprising that if what needs to change is all the neural synapses, all the intestinal biome, and all the hormone producers it just might take a while! I wish you the best of luck and determination. There is very little support for this but if you truly have an addiction like I do, it’s so important and I”m relieved to have finally figured that out.
  • J
    How long is detox?
  • Courtney
    Day 3 of trying to cut sugar out and I am on a 3 day migraine, body aches, and chills. Even with trying to take in some natural sugar from foods (milk and orange juice). Most people I’ve talked to that have gone through this say if you can make it past day 5 it starts to get better. I’ve never had such a bad headache in my life. Sugar withdrawal is worse than caffeine withdrawal. At least with Caffeine withdrawal a Tylenol or ibuprofen take the headache away, nothing has touched this 3 day migraine.
  • Sherman
    Great article