Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, hot cross buns – have you had your fill of sugar after Easter weekend? Or are you still craving more? Sugar addiction is one of the most socially acceptable forms of dependence – but there are serious consequences if you use sugar as a drug. In this blog, we’ll ask:
- Why do people get addicted to sugar?
- When does over-indulgence in sugar become a harmful sugar addiction?
- When is addiction treatment recommended for sugar addicts?
If you fear you’re addicted to sugar, and you want professional help to recover, please speak in confidence to the Addiction Helper team today.
Sugar Addiction – Why Do People Get Addicted?
Eat sugar – feel relief or pleasure, satisfaction or fullness. Ever since we’re children, most people discover that eating sugar is a fast route to feeling good. In healthy individuals, the more concentrated or refined the sugar is, the greater the effects are on the body and mind.
Sugar is also ubiquitous. It’s highly socially acceptable and it’s mass marketed throughout the year. Sugar is often shorthand for celebration, community or love – from birthday cake to Christmas pudding, Valentine’s chocolates to wedding favours, office biscuits to charity bake sales. Sugar is everywhere, and it can be tough to turn it down.
Research shows that consuming excessive sugar increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is an organic chemical associated with how we experience pleasure and motivation. Just as drugs like heroin and cocaine stimulate the brain’s reward centre, and so does sugar. This can lead to psychological and physical cravings for more of the same.
Over time, eating much sugar can reduce dopamine levels – this means you will need to eat more sugar to get the same effect. This is also known as tolerance. A similar effect happens to dependent drinkers or opiate users – it’s one of the reasons why addictions get worse over time.
How Do I Know if I’m Addicted to Sugar? 10 Questions
What is the difference between eating a bit too much sugar and being addicted?
Physically, sugar withdrawal is rarely dangerous or life-threatening in healthy people. Unless you have an illness like diabetes, you can’t die from a sugar overdose (unlike with alcohol or drugs like heroin). Eating a diet high in refined sugar can lead to constant cravings for more sugar, however. This is due to the sharp peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and conditions like obesity, even heart disease.
Psychologically, sugar can be highly addictive. If you eat too much sugar over months or years, then you suddenly stop, it can be mentally very challenging. You may have come to rely on sugar to deal with fear, discomfort, pain or isolation. This is why sugar addicts get stuck in cycles of bingeing and withdrawal – it’s relatively easy to stop for a few hours or days, but it’s hard to keep it going without help.
To identify sugar addiction, you can ask yourself these ten questions:
- When you start eating sugar, can you stop easily?
- Do you often eat sugar to escape problems or as a “quick fix” for your mood?
- Do you feel like you have to have sugar to cope with daily life?
- How is your mood and behaviour before, during and after eating sugar?
- Do you prefer to eat sugar alone rather than in company?
- Do you feel excessive guilt or shame after eating sugar?
- Do you ever harm or punish yourself for eating too much sugar?
- Do you eat sugar to the point where you feel very stuffed?
- Do you ever make yourself sick after eating sugar?
- If you can’t get hold of sugar, do you feel panicked, distressed or angry?
If you relate strongly to three or more points, then please visit the Addiction Helper sugar addiction page for more information or call us to talk about sugar addiction treatment.
Sugar Addiction Treatment – When It Is Necessary?
There are two major red flags with sugar addiction, for which we recommend immediate professional addiction help – they concern your physical and mental health. The third point concerns your overall quality of life.
1. Sugar addiction and serious physical illness
Have you been diagnosed with an acute, chronic or severe disease? Did you develop this disease because of how much sugar you eat? Do you continue eating sugar, even though it worsens your health?
Sugar has also been described as the ‘alcohol of the child’ because of the incidence of childhood diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease.
If you can’t control how much sugar you eat, even after advice or warnings from doctors, then you need to get help with sugar addiction. You may have tried all sorts of nutrition plans, diets, exercise programmes and motivational courses to break the sugar habit – but if you can’t stay sugar-free, then addiction is driving your eating patterns.
2. Sugar addiction and mental illness
Eating disorders including bulimia and binge eating disorder sometimes involve excessive consumption of sugar. Sugar addicts consume to the point where they feel very stuffed; some will make themselves sick afterwards (known as purging). Mental deterioration can be rapid in patients with eating disorders, as sugary foods affect moods, disrupt the endocrine and digestive systems, and put a strain on major organs.
The reason why you must get professional help with eating disorders is that they typically get worse without help. The earlier you get treatment and support, the higher your chances of recovery.
Sugar addiction can also be a sign of loneliness. If you know you eat sugar for comfort or a feeling of companionship, please, get help with addiction. Research has shown that lack of social connections is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
If the way you eat sugar is causing you severe mental distress, including depressive episodes, anxiety or self-harming thoughts and actions, then we’d also recommend immediate professional help. Please call Addiction Helper for treatment options or speak to your GP.
3. Sugar addiction and life opportunities
All addictions can get in the way of excellent opportunities in life, such as attending and completing educational courses, doing well at work, building good relationships or raising your family. That’s because, over time, all addictions damage our health and self-worth. Increasingly, the addiction is prioritised over everything else that matters in life.
You may be fighting a devastating eating disorder like bulimia while trying to complete your final year at university. Or you’re eating sugar to get through the day at work. Perhaps your husband or wife has noticed how much sugar you eat and they have suggested you cut down or lose weight. You might feel angry with people who notice what’s going on – or feel let down by people who don’t.
Many sugar addicts also manage to be high-functioning members of society – in top jobs, for example. However, the struggle to contain their sugar addiction still impacts their daily life, preventing them from making the most of good opportunities and life experiences. Underneath the surface, they can be dealing with just as much emotional distress and physical discomfort, as someone with a much more apparent sugar addiction.
In whatever way sugar addiction is affecting your life, treatment will help you understand why you eat sugar excessively, including the emotions and past experiences that drive your addiction. Recovery from sugar addiction also involves learning how to navigate many social, professional and cultural events, where sugary foods are central to the celebrations or gathering. You’ll learn how to respond healthily when you crave sugar or someone offers you sugar. In treatment for addiction, you’ll also begin the process of developing a recovery support network, to help you stay well.
Find out about sugar addiction treatment today – call Addiction Helper for an assessment and recovery programmes nationwide.