Sugar addiction is a genuine condition, one that is often far more serious and widespread than many people might realize. While having a sweet-tooth is nothing unusual, consuming excessive amounts of sugar can lead to many problems. Food addictions can be just as severe as other chemical dependencies, and foods that are high in refined sugar act upon the brain in a manner that is very similar to drugs like cocaine. For those who have developed a psychological or even psychical dependency on sugar, understanding the nature of their addiction and how to overcome it is often a matter of paramount importance.
How Do People Develop a Sugar Addiction?
Consuming sugar causes the brain to release a neurotransmitter known as dopamine, a chemical that is associated with feelings of pleasure, excitement, and enjoyment. Those who consume sugar frequently or in large doses can begin to develop a tolerance to it over time, one that requires them to consume greater and greater quantities in order to produce the same effect. Many people may also begin to crave sugar in response to anxiety, mood fluctuations, or learned behavior. Those who have become addicted to sugar may start to experience withdrawal symptoms, which can make changing their diet, eating habits, or attempting to curb their sugar intake far more difficult.
Physical Effects of Sugar Addiction
Consuming large quantities of sugar produces a range of physical effects, many of which can have far-reaching consequences. Too much sugar can lead to an imbalance in blood glucose levels, an issue that may increase the risk of developing diseases like diabetes. Too much sugar can also damage the liver, lead to increased weight gain, or cause metabolic dysfunction. Those who become addicted are far more likely to suffer the long-term health impacts associated with excessive sugar consumption.
Signs of an Addiction
Sugar dependency and addiction are often very easy to identify. Frequent consumption of foods and snacks that are high in processed sugar can often be a clear indication that a problem is present. Many sugar addicts also consume sodas, soft drinks, and other sugary beverages throughout the day. Eating sweets and other sugary foods to combat boredom or consuming sugar to the point of becoming hyper followed by a crash may also indicate an addiction.
Food Addiction and Emotional Eating
Excessive sugar consumption and dependency are part of a more significant condition known as food addiction. Unhealthy eating habits that are developed in response to an emotional issue are prevalent, with sugar addiction being especially widespread. This is often due to the enticing taste and fast-acting physiological effects of sugar consumption. The weight gain caused by a sugar addiction often leads to a decrease in self-worth, which can create a feedback loop where an individual begins to consume sugar as a response to a negative self-image.
Overeating or consuming food too rapidly is known as binge eating. Feelings of shame or guilt following a binge-eating episode are also pervasive. Sweets, candy, and other foods that are high in sugar are frequently the cause or focus of a binge as they can be very pleasurable to eat. Problems with binge eating often develop by those who turn to food to regulate their emotional state.
Sugar and Anxiety
The dopamine release associated with sugar consumption can provide temporary relief from anxiety. Those who are experiencing stress or who suffer from an anxiety disorder or another form of mental illness often turn to sugar in an effort to self-medicate. Sugar addiction and anxiety are directly related to heightened anxiety, and increased irritability are among the most common withdrawal symptoms. For individuals who have developed a sugar dependency due to their efforts to manage stress, overcoming their addiction can often be far more difficult.
Sugar Addiction and Alcoholism
Alcohol consumption activates the same dopamine receptors triggered by sugar, and those who suffer from alcoholism may be far more likely to develop a sugar addiction. Heavy drinkers and those who have developed an alcohol dependency are also more likely to crave sweets, especially during alcohol withdrawal. Making an effort to avoid sweets and to moderate their sugar intake can be especially crucial for alcoholics who have begun the recovery process.
Symptoms of Sugar Withdrawal
There are numerous side effects and withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced by those who are seeking to reduce their intake or to eliminate processed sugar from their diet entirely. Irritability and mood fluctuations are among the most common of all withdrawal symptoms. They may be experienced even by those who have not developed an addiction or who only consume moderate quantities of sugar. Other symptoms include lack of physical energy, problems with concentration as well as cravings that may be frequent or acute. While sugar withdrawal symptoms may seem mild at first glance, overcoming sugar addiction or dependency can often be a challenging and emotionally-trying ordeal, even under ideal circumstances.
Treating an Eating Disorder
One of the reasons why sugar and other types of food addiction are often so difficult to overcome is that addicts are so used to using sugar or food as a tool to manage their stress, frustrations, and anxiety. Being deprived of the very tool they need to control the discomfort of withdrawal can often be too much for many individuals to bear. Failing in their efforts to overcome an addiction can also be devastating to an individual’s sense of self-worth. Frustration, disappointment, or feeling a loss of self-control due to addiction may lead to an increase in sugar consumption, especially for those who have failed to overcome their dependency despite multiple past efforts.
External resources often play a crucial role in overcoming an addiction. Sugar addiction, binge eating, and other types of eating disorders can be severe psychological issues that may be difficult or even impossible to overcome alone. Those who have become dependent upon processed sugar or who have been unable to curb their consumption in the past may need to seek professional help. Emotional support groups, professional therapy, and other resources can be practical tools for combating a sugar addiction.