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Sugar addiction – Just how addictive is sugar and what are the effects?

Although there are several forms of food addiction, sugar addiction is by far the most common. To make matters worse, sugar is found in almost everything we eat.

The sad reality is that we are often unwittingly consuming high amounts of sugar every single day. This is because food manufacturers are using it as part of their ingredients, even infoods we don’t consider sweet.

Why? Sugar is extremely palatable and addictive so it’s used to increase the amount of pleasure we experience when eating certain things, so we keep going back for more.

The result is that food manufacturers fill their pockets as consumers unknowingly fuel their addiction.

Sugar addiction recovery treatment centre South Africa

Brain on sugar vs brain on drugs – What makes sugar addictive?

Firstly, we must understand what addiction is. When someone is addicted to something, they have an uncontrollable desire to consume a substance or engage in an activity, regardless of the negative effects which may result from such behaviour.

The motive for such behaviour? Reward. When indulging in whatever the person is addicted to, he or she feels good, even if its for just a few minutes.

Is sugar addictive?

Sugar has similar effects of the brain as nicotine and cocaine. These 3 substances activate the brain’s reward centre and stimulate the release of dopamine. The release of dopamine leads us to becoming emotionally attached, leading us into an addictive trap.

There is also a great degree of physical addiction to sugar which leads to cravings, binge eating and withdrawal symptoms should we attempt to stop consuming it.

For something to be considered an addiction, it must tick at least three of the following boxes:


  • Withdrawal – having a physical or emotional response when refraining
  • Negative consequences – using a substance causes either physical harm or harm to one’s environment such as loss of home and family etc
  • Desire to stop – attempting to quit with unsuccessful results
  • No control – using more of the substance than you would like to
  • Tolerance – the more you use it, the more you need it
  • Neglecting responsibilities – replacing responsibilities with the use of the substance instead


Illicit drugs and alcohol addiction are capable of meeting each one of these criteria. Sugar is not excluded from this equation.

Sugar addiction symptoms

We often make excuses for why we need sugar. More often than not, this is because we may not be aware that we are in fact addicted to sugar, or we are simply in denial.

However, there are symptoms which are indicative of sugar addiction. They include:


  • You crave foods or beverages which are high in sugar
  • You crave meals which are unhealthy or comforting
  • You reward yourself with sugary snacks or foods
  • You regularly make excuses for your habit in order to justify why you need it
  • When you’re alone, you binge eat on sugary foods
  • You have tried to stop eating sugar but have failed
  • You eat sugar to give you energy


Effects of sugar addiction

The consequences of long-term sugar addiction are severe:


  • Increased fat storage – the body converts excess sugar into fat to be used for energy. Excess body fat results in heart disease, pulmonary disease and other serious health conditions.
  • Increased inflammation – inflammation is responsible for many health conditions including chronic pain and even cancer. It’s a natural response your body has when it’s fighting an infection or trying to heal. Sugar stimulates inflammatory responses, tricking your body into thinking that it’s constantly sick.
  • Depression – blood sugar levels that are constantly fluctuating cause your mood to fluctuate too. This constant fluctuation can lead to long-term depression.
  • Insulin resistance – although diabetes is an obvious risk for people who have a sugar addiction, insulin resistance is also very real. Your body releases insulin as a response to the levels of sugar in your blood. Having constantly high levels of sugar in your blood will make your body less sensitive to the insulin. Long-term insulin resistance is linked to type 2 diabetes.
  • Hypertension – also referred to a high blood pressure, causes increased pressure in the heart which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. When sugar is consumed in high amounts, especially along with caffeine (fizzy drinks and coffee), the risk of developing hypertension is high.


How to break sugar addiction


  • Educate yourself on the effects of sugar addiction
  • Choose healthy alternatives
  • Cut back on alcohol
  • Exercise instead
  • Clean out your fridge and grocery cupboard
  • Read your packaging
  • Develop a food plan for yourself
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay hydrated


Step Away Rehab Centre South Africa

Although we do not have a recovery programme for sugar addiction, we continue to recognise it as a serious addiction which needs attention.

For more information about our alcohol and drug addiction treatment, contact us.

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