3 Myths About Sugar Addiction



Sugar, the refined kind, has taken over our food supply. It now appears in over 70% of foods sold in grocery stores even in strange and unsuspecting places. Sugar has hijacked our taste buds and has turned most of us into blindly adoring fans.  There is a good reason for that. Sugar lights up our brains and calms our nerves. It makes us feel good, at least for a while, until we feel bad.

Unfortunately, the brain only remembers the good times, and downplays the bad. This is called dopamine euphoria and with frequent continued use sugar can morph from an innocent pleasure, a bad habit, a food we eat for comfort and convenience to a bona fide addiction. It morphs from a harmless indulgence to a life-threatening compulsion.

Sugar Addiction is a silent epidemic no one wants to admit.

In this article, we will look at 3 myths about sugar addiction and leave you with some practical suggestions on how to reduce your consumption and assess whether you are among the millions of individuals who fall on the sugar addiction spectrum and did not even know it!


Symptoms of Sugar Addiction

Sugar addiction refers to a biological dependency comparable to a drug addiction. It is characterized by a compulsive need to consume sugar and the inability to significantly reduce or eliminate its consumption despite known negative consequences. Individuals who have been diagnosed with this condition recognize their consumption is self-harming but feel powerless to stop. Moreover, they notice that when they do stop they experience cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms which drives them back to sugar for relief.

While it may seem like a minor addiction, one that we can joke about such as “I am so addicted to (insert sugar drink or food of choice), but it is not a joke. “Sugar addiction is a serious issue that left untreated puts the individual at high risk of developing a life-threatening chronic disease,” states Florence Christophers, a health coach with expertise in sugar addiction recovery. “It puts us at high risk for developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental illness. Excess sugar consumption not only makes us miserable, it is deadly.”

The Science Behind Sugar Addiction

Sugar addiction is not a lack of willpower, it is not just an emotional eating problem; it is a biological response.

When we consume sugar, our bodies release dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, neurotransmitters that create highly pleasurable feelings. This feel-good feedback is learned by the brain. When we are stressed, tired, etc.,, or in a state of sugar withdrawal, the brain has a euphoric recall of the good feelings we get from sugar consumption and activates the urge to consume it. It is brain-driven.

If repeatedly indulged the brain will develop neurocircuitry that leads to chronic cycles of craving and consumption followed by withdrawal symptoms (we call these sugar crashes). This endless loop of seeking, consuming, and crashing is, in a nutshell, addiction.

Unfortunately, frequent sugar consumption causes our brains to become desensitized to the effects of sugar which means our consumption naturally escalates. We need more sugar, more often, to achieve the same level of pleasure. This pattern of behaviour mirrors that of drug addiction without the intense cognitive impairment we see with ‘hard drugs’ such as meth, heroin, alcohol, etc. Sugar is more comparable to nicotine where individuals indulging can still drive a vehicle but struggle to stop even when they sincerely want to.

Like all addictions, the desire for sugar, despite unwanted consequences, is intensified and triggered by emotional and psychological stressors. Sugar like other substances of use and abuse is highly effective at bringing a feeling of calm. It can also bring feelings of elation. This makes it an easy, legal, socially acceptable way to self-medicate.

Can You Really Be Addicted to Sugar?

There are many skeptics who seriously and sometimes loudly doubt humans can become addicted to sugar. I mean, come on we feed this stuff to children, right?

To answer this question, let’s look at the defining features of addiction again.  Addiction is characterized by the compulsive consumption of a substance despite its known harmful consequences. There is a long history of failed efforts to cut back or eliminate its consumption despite a genuine desire to do so. It is characterized by strong cravings and unpleasant detox symptoms when abstaining. Given these clear criteria, clearly, it is possible to be addicted to sugar.

How many people do you know that consume sugar above the World Health’s recommendations of less than 6 teaspoons for women and less than 9 for men per day, or less, while also having a long list of known adverse consequences such as weight gain, depression, fatigue, cancer, blood sugar issues, etc?

The truth is the vast majority of people in industrialized countries are under the care of a doctor for a sugar-related chronic disease. And yet few will seriously consider significantly reducing or better yet eliminating it. And those that are willing, struggle to do so. Why? Because sugar is not just pleasurable, this highly refined chemical can also be addictive.

Sugar is a concentrated compound that packs a huge dopamine punch. In fact, sugar goes through the exact same refinement process as heroin. It starts out as the harmless juice of a plant and ends up as an opiate. So, yes, you can be addicted to sugar. Knowing this is essential to help reverse the rising rates of chronic disease tied to excess sugar consumption. If we think the problem is our lack of willpower, and not the substance itself, we are in trouble. We are trying to solve the wrong problem. We are blaming ourselves, and not the substance.

If you conduct a quick internet search on the science of sugar addiction, you will find over 30 million hits and hundreds of books on the topic many written by doctors, psychiatrists and scientists.

Myth 1: Sugar Addiction is Different Than Other Addictions

The first myth we need to debunk is the idea that sugar addiction is different from other addictions. Not true. Addiction is addiction is addiction. They all impact the same neurotransmitter and reward pathways in the brain. They all compel self-harming use and abuse. They all induce highly unpleasant (and occasionally life-threatening) withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped or significantly reduced.

The challenge of unhooking from sugar is in some ways easier and in other ways much more difficult than other drugs of abuse. It is easier because withdrawal symptoms are not lethal and rarely require hospitalization and medical supervision. But it is much harder because we need to navigate a food supply laced with our drug of choice and be constantly bombarded by environmental cues.

Moreover, sugar addiction is trivialized by the mainstream. We are told sugar is part of a balanced diet and safe to eat in moderation. No one says meth or alcohol or cigarettes are safe or part of a balanced life. No one should say that about sugar either. For 300 pages of evidence check out Gary Taubes' book “The Case Against Sugar.”

Myth 2: Everyone Who Eats Sugar Gets Addicted

Another common myth is that just because you eat a lot of sugar or really like sugar this means you are addicted. This is simply not true. Sugar consumers fall into 3 categories. Sugar users, sugar abusers and sugar addictions. According to Dr. Vera Tarman, MD and medical director of Renascent Addiction Clinic in Toronto, Canada, estimates that sugar consumers fall into roughly one-third for each category.  While the science is still emerging, her estimate is that 33% of the general public falls on the sugar addiction spectrum. This makes it a hidden epidemic.

Myth 3: It's Impossible to Break a Sugar Addiction

The third myth we need to debunk is the belief that abstaining from sugar is impossible. This is not true. Like all other addictions recovery is possible and always worth it. With the right strategies and support, anyone with a sincere desire can successfully break up with sugar and learn to fall in love with whole foods instead.

How to Break a Sugar Addiction: Practical Steps

If you're struggling with sugar addiction, know that you are not alone and it is NOT your fault. Here are several practical steps you can take to start the journey of unhooking from sugar’s addictive grip.

Firstly, start by slowly reducing your liquid sugar intake, followed by other food sources of sugar. This helps to minimize withdrawal symptoms and makes the transition easier.

Secondly, replace sugary foods with healthier alternatives. For instance, opt for fruits when you crave something sweet.

Thirdly, stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet with protein, fat and leafy greens at EVERY meal. This can curb sugar cravings and keep you feeling satiated.

Exercise is another effective way to combat sugar addiction. Physical activity can help reduce cravings, give you energy, regulate your nervous system and reduce your ‘need’ for sugar for stress relief. Plus it will make you feel good without that rascal sugar.

Lastly, consider seeking professional sugar addiction help. Professionals can provide personalized advice and support, making the journey to overcome sugar addiction possible.

The Impact of Sugar Addiction on Overall Health

Sugar addiction has severe implications. Excessive sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. It is also linked to mood swings, anxiety, and depression.

Thus overcoming sugar addiction is not just about improving your physical and mental health, it is saving your life. Most people fear that by giving up sugar they won’t feel happy or be able to fit in, eat out, etc. Not true. You will feel more happy, more energetic, more social and more connected. Sugar addiction isolates us and holds us back. Letting it go, moves us forward. You won’t miss it once it is out of your bloodstream and you find new and better ways of calming yourself and feeling good.  

In short, breaking free from sugar gives you a healthier, happier life.

Conclusion: The Truth About Sugar Addiction

In conclusion, sugar addiction is a real thing and many of us are affected but are unaware.

Most people don’t go a single day without eating some form of sugar thus they have NO idea if they fall on the addiction spectrum. Most people are oblivious to sugar’s harms and to its addictive potential. Fortunately, now you know!

To discover for yourself if you have a sugar dependency or sugar addiction, consider giving it up for 28 days. Give up all forms of refined carbohydrates and see how you do.  To support you, there are sugar detox programs online. This will give you insight as to whether avoiding sugar is a serious challenge for you (which suggests potential sugar dependency), or not. It will also give you a direct personal experience of how you feel when you reduce or eliminate your consumption. Most people report dramatic increases in mood, energy, and quality of sleep. Others lose weight almost effortlessly.

If you are looking for additional resources, check out the online and free Kick Sugar Summit taking place October 16-23, 2023. It will share interviews with world experts across the globe on the topic of sugar, sugar addiction and sugar addiction recovery.