Although it’s not every day that we hear sugar referred to as an addictive drug, an increasing number of studies are showing that this sweet substance does, in fact, impact our bodies and brains much like addictive drugs. A 2007 James Cook University study found that mice who were addicted to cocaine still preferred to have sugar-infused water as a reward instead of cocaine.
Sugar Addiction Is Real
Sugar has been shown to encourage the release of both dopamine and opioids in the body. We are hardwired to like the way these chemicals feel when they are released through our bodies. However, because of this effect, sugar withdrawal is a real process that occurs in our bodies and it can be challenging. It is often accompanied by fatigue, headaches, mood swings and other nasty side effects.
Sugar withdrawal is real and so is sugar addiction. Some scientists have claimed that sugar addiction is even comparable to heroin addiction in certain ways. It appears as though our physiological relationship with sugar is more serious than any of us would have thought. Further, sugar addiction may be even more serious than even current consensus would have us think. Recent research supports the idea that sugar not only is an addictive drug in and of itself, but it also can impact how we deal with other drugs and addictions.
Research from Princeton in 2002 showed that sugar might actually lead to drug use, with sugar acting as the original gateway drug. Rats in the study who were given sugar, and then made to abstain from sugar, turned to alcohol instead and consumed more alcohol than usual as a result of sugar deprivation. Sugar cravings have often been linked with substance abuse, with the association between sugar intake and opioid addiction well documented. People who are addicted to opiates typically turn to sugar if they are coming down from a high or having difficulty securing more of their drug of choice.
6 Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
Although the effects of sugar on other addictions are still being studied, the research available supports the idea that sugar intake should be reduced, particularly for those suffering from substance abuse or alcohol use problems. If you’d like to cut down on your sugar intake, consider taking the following steps:
- Learn about the toxic effects of sugar. Knowledge truly is power and the more you know about the toxicity of sugar, the more armed you will be mentally to fight your sugar cravings.
- Replace added sugar with fruit. Instead of consuming products laden with added sugar, meet your sugar craving with a serving of fruit.
- Embrace moderation. If you have a craving, feel free to have a few bites, but cut yourself off and stick to your choice.
- Cut out certain types of sugar. One way to weed out many sugar products is to cut out a certain type of sugar altogether. You can vow to abstain from products with high fructose corn syrup, for instance.
- Aim for quality. If you can’t resist the temptation to have some sugar, splurge on something high quality and expensive. You might spend as much on a single, expertly-made truffle as you would have on several candy bars, but you’ll consume less sugar if you take this route and you’ll likely savor each bite more.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with non-sugar alternatives. There are now healthier, non-sugar sweeteners available, such as Stevia and Truvia, which can provide a sweet taste without sending sucrose-type sugars coursing through your system. If you aren't averse to using chemical sweeteners, Splenda (sucralose) can also replace sugar in beverages, candies, cakes and other desserts to help satisfy your sweet tooth without a spike in your glucose levels.