How Sugar Addiction Works

Can You Really Become Addicted to Sugar?

You go into the kitchen to get a glass of water. A pan of decadently-rich brownies on the counter catches your eye. You tell yourself you'll be good. You won't eat an entire brownie -- just a half. You make good on your promise, neatly cutting a square in two. But when you return to the kitchen just 15 minutes later, you quickly scarf down the other half. Another 30 minutes after that, you down a second brownie. Soon, you're shaving a piece off a third ...

Are you addicted to sugar? Perhaps. While there's no scientific consensus on whether or not sugar is truly an addictive substance like alcohol or nicotine, a lot of people do have trouble controlling their sugar intake. And one of the major signs of any addiction is loss of control. Further, indulging your sweet tooth releases opioids and dopamine into your bloodstream, which flood into your brain's "reward circuitry" and cause you to feel pleasure. This is also what would happen if you took drugs or downed an alcoholic beverage or two [source: Avena, Rada and Hoebel].

But this same brain circuitry can be stimulated by many things that aren't necessarily true addictions, including chowing down on fatty foods, compulsive shopping or over-exercising. These would be considered behavioral disorders rather than true addictions [source: Rettner]. One international team of scientists concluded that people can become addicted to eating but not to the chemical substances found in foods such as sugar. The researchers said the brain does not respond to nutrients in the same way it will to drugs like cocaine [source: University of Edinburgh].

Whether or not sugar is truly an addictive substance may not matter. The fact is that many people have an unhealthy relationship with sugar and sugary foods. They crave them, then eat far more of them than planned or is healthy. If this is happening to you, you should definitely work toward eliminating this behavior, whether it's a bad habit or an addiction. If you don't, it could affect your health, your relationships and your job. Just like a "real" addiction [source: Smith].

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