Sugar Addiction

CPTSD Foundation
8 min readApr 24, 2023

You have probably heard of addictions to alcohol, work, and prescription drugs, but have you ever considered addiction to sugar? Sugar addiction is a real problem, especially in the developed world, causing many physical ailments and co-occurring with some mental health problems such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

This article will center around the addiction to sugar and how it might affect you and your family.

The Types of Sugar We Eat

One might think that the sugar we eat is in its simple form, a substance that grows as a plant, is harvested, and then processed. You would be wrong. While some products contain ‘pure cane sugar,’ it is almost guaranteed that other forms of sugar are present in the food you eat.

If you read the labeling on the product you are about to consume, you will see that it reads like a chemistry book. The FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) requires that the amount of added sugar in your food and drink is listed.

Added sugar is a mixture of simple sugars like sucrose, glucose, or fructose, and other types might be present such as galactose, lactose, and maltose. Let’s break down and examine two of these sugars more closely.

Sucrose. This is the most common sugar and is often sold as table sugar. Sucrose occurs naturally as a carbohydrate that is found in fruits and plants. Table sugar is extracted from cane or beats and consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This form of sugar is the least harmful to your body if consumed in moderation.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweetener is widely used in products made in the United States. HFCS is made from corn starch and includes fructose and glucose. There are many types of HFCS with various amounts of fructose. However, the most common types are HFCS 55 and HFCS 42.

High fructose corn syrup has been shown to cause inflammation and is highly associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Those aren’t the only problems caused by this inflammation, as HFCS increases harmful substances called glycation end products which harm the body’s cells.

What is sugar addiction?

According to the World Health Organization, an adult on a 2,000-calorie diet should consume about 25 grams of sugar per day. However, most people are unaware that they consume much more than 25 grams, with a single can of soda containing 44 grams.

If you read those figures and felt a twinge of guilt, don’t. Your addiction to sugar is not entirely your fault, and you are not alone. On average, Americans consume an enormous amount of sugar daily, 71.14 g compared to the WHOs recommended amount.

Sugar, in one form or another, is everywhere and added to most processed foods to make them taste better and, quite frankly, to draw you back to buy more. Consuming sugar creates a short-term high, sparking powerful feelings of pleasure, energy, and euphoria that help alleviate depression and anxiety.

Some studies found sugar to be as addictive as cocaine because of the dopamine release sugar causes. Like cocaine, sugar has long-term health consequences. Sugar is used to soothe stress and is like other behavioral addictions.

Anyone who grows a mental attachment to sugar, giving them energy, can become dependent and suffer cravings to control irritability and emotional lows.

What is the Problem with Sugar Addiction?

Sugar addiction has become a significant problem worldwide, especially in developed countries like the United States. Sugar is in everything, and if the food isn’t naturally occurring or sweet enough, high fructose corn syrup is added to enhance the flavor. Corporations and other food manufacturers use sugar to tweak your brain; this tweaking can lead to obesity and cause addiction.

Evolution has a lot to do with sugar addiction as the brain is stimulated to go into survival mode seeking to bulk up on all the carbohydrates (sugars). It can cause one to gain excessive amounts of weight. Your body thinks you are starving!

Like withdrawal from any other addictive drug, stopping eating sugar is difficult for many reasons. One of those reasons is that sugar is added to everything you eat. Second, withdrawal from feeding your body copious amounts of sugar is tremendous as your body and brain adjust to not being bombarded by sugar’s effects.

Four of the Signs of Sugar Addiction

As stated before, the first step in escaping a trap is knowing its existence. Acknowledging you have a sugar addiction can not only save your life, but it can also set you free of lifelong ailments.

Below we shall explore four signs that you are addicted to sugar.

  1. You feel you need something sweet after every meal. If you are unsatisfied without a sweet dessert after your meals, you may be addicted to sugar. Sugar should be eaten as a treat, not an expected part of a meal. If you feel excited about dessert during your meal, you may want to re-evaluate your relationship with sugar.
  2. If you crave carbohydrates, you might be addicted to sugar. It is vital to remember that sugar comes in many forms. One form is carbohydrates. Carbs are made into sugar very quickly and are used by the body to give instant energy. Carbohydrates drive sugar addiction by offering a short-term high and then a desperate low. The body will crave carbohydrates to get high and avoid the lows of lack of excessive sugar in the bloodstream.
  3. Feasting on a high-carb meal or treat disrupts the ecosystem of bacteria in our digestive system feeding the ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut. These disturbances hurt the ability of our digestive system to do its job efficiently and cause bloating. If you experience bloating after eating, you may be a sugar addict.
  4. You experience huge dips and spikes in your energy during your day. Eating sugar impacts your blood sugar and thus impacts your energy level. If you feel fantastic at a point in your day but have times when you feel fatigued, this is another sign you are addicted to sugar. When you eat foods rich in carbohydrates, your body will react by making insulin to metabolize them into sugar in your bloodstream. The influx of carbs will give you a rush but be followed by drastic changes in your energy level as it bottoms out. The constant changes of eating carbs and crashing leaves your body craving sugar.

It should be clear by now that sugar addiction is very real, and if you recognize yourself in the descriptions above, you should speak to your doctor. If you are obese or find sweets irresistible, there is a good chance that you are addicted to sugar.

Strategies That Can Help

Your life doesn’t need to be run by sugar. While your body needs some sugar to function well, overeating sugar, usually found in processed foods, is harmful. You can do the following to limit sugar intake and step away from sugar addiction.

Change Your Diet. One good strategy is to limit how much sugar you eat each day. This strategy requires self-control and the lack of a deep emotional connection to sugar. Below is a list of some dietary strategies you can use.

  • Use fresh fruit to sweeten plain yogurt or pancakes.
  • Replace your breakfast with unsweetened items such as eggs or oatmeal.
  • Don’t purchase and bring home sugary items such as candy or cookies.
  • Avoid eating anything sweet all day. Save them for dessert after supper.
  • Stay away from sweetened drinks like sweetened iced tea, sports drinks, or soda.
  • Always shop using a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Make it a habit to read ingredient labels before you buy them. If it reads like a chemistry book, put it back.

Limiting how much sugar you eat daily will curb your cravings and end binges.

Consider Dietary Counseling. The key to ending sugar addiction is eating sugar in moderation and maintaining a balanced diet. A registered Dietician can teach you how to plan a healthy diet and how many calories you should consume for your activity level.

Psychotherapy. Sugar addiction is associated with stress and low self-esteem and can come from the trauma you experienced in childhood. Those with complex post-traumatic stress disorder often have a poor relationship with sugar as they use it to self-soothe. If you recognize yourself in this description, you might want to consider seeing a therapist. A therapist can help you deal with your past and other co-occurring problems, such as depression.

Ending Our Time Together

Sugar addiction is no joke, as it causes obesity and its side effects. Is sugar addiction real? Unfortunately, researchers are on the fence about that question. More research needs to be done to study the condition more closely. Scientists do know that people respond to sugar similarly as they respond to drugs.

Some researchers think sugar addiction is a behavioral problem like gambling, while others see it as a substance addiction. We must have more research, but there is resistance because sugar tastes good and is socially acceptable. To tell someone they are addicted to sugar is often to get a laugh and a sneer for interrupting their pleasure.

If thinking of living your life without sugar consumption feels horrible, well, you have made my point.

References

Ahmed, S. H., et al. (2013). Sugar addiction: Pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

Dhar, A., Desai, K., Kazachmov, M., Yu, P., & Wu, L. (2008). Methylglyoxal production in vascular smooth muscle cells from different metabolic precursors. Metabolism, 57(9), 1211–1220.

DiNicolantonio, J. J., O’Keefe, J. H., & Wilson, W. L. (2018). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of sports medicine, 52(14), 910–913.

Malik, V. S., Popkin, B. M., Bray, G. A., Després, J. P., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes care, 33(11), 2477–2483.

Rutledge, A. C., & Adeli, K. (2007). Fructose and the metabolic syndrome: pathophysiology and molecular mechanisms. Nutrition reviews, 65(suppl_1), S13-S23.

Wang, X., Jia, X., Chang, T., Desai, K., & Wu, L. (2008). Attenuation of hypertension development by scavenging methylglyoxal in fructose-treated rats. Journal of hypertension, 26(4), 765–772.

Westwater, M. L., Fletcher, P. C., & Ziauddeen, H. (2016). Sugar addiction: the state of the science. European Journal of Nutrition, 55(2), 55–69.

Wiss, D. A., Avena, N., & Rada, P. (2018). Sugar addiction: from evolution to revolution. Frontiers in psychiatry, 545.

Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.

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CPTSD Foundation

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