Is sugar more addictive than drugs?

“Silent assassin” and “the hidden fat-maker of the 21st century”. These are just a few nicknames for the sweet tasting substance named sugar. Sugar is used in many products to add a sweet taste. Why? Because most of us crave sweetness. So much so that it is often said that sugar is addictive! But is sugar really that bad and is it addictive?         

Source: our partner Myshapeplan

Is sugar really that bad for us?

Soda, cookies, candy and desserts. It is safe to say that we generally consider these products as unhealthy. “The high sugar contents in these products will make you fat.” Luckily for everyone with a sweet tooth this statement is not necessarily true! Sugar is a carbohydrate that provides energy. What determines if it will make you “fat” depends on your energy balance. You will only gain weight if your energy (caloric) intake is higher than the amount of energy used (calories burned). Consuming sugar is perfectly fine, as long as it does not lead to a calorie surplus. However, sugar is not essential for body functions. It simply provides energy but you can also get that from other sources.         

Is it addictive?

To determine if sugar can be classified as addictive we need to explain what an addiction is. There are two types of addictions: substance addiction and process addiction. Substance addiction means that you are addicted to a substance such as alcohol or cocaine. Process addiction is a compulsive habit. Based on the difference, sugar would be classified as a substance addiction.   

Dopamine

Dopamine is an organic chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter. Amongst other things, it plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior. The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain. Many addictive drugs increase dopamine release. Sugar also has that effect.

Difference between sugar and drugs

The release of dopamine alone does not make a substance addictive. What happens during addictive substance abuse is that dopamine is released but also blocked. This leads to an overflow. That is what causes the euphoric high. As a result, your body will create and release less and less dopamine in the future for the same stimuli. That is why you need to increase the substance intake to reach the same high. This is not the case with sugar and that is why it cannot be classified as an addiction. We just love the taste of it!        

Summary

Sugar is often considered the cause of weight gain or even obesity. Some people even call it addictive. As long as sugar consumption does not lead to a calorie surplus it will not make you “fat”. The same goes for other nutrients. What makes a substance addictive is not just the release of dopamine but also blocking it to leave. As a result your body will create less and less dopamine over time. This is not the case with sugar and therefore it cannot be classified as addictive. We just love the taste! And to be fair: have you ever seen a person waking up in the middle of the night to consume a jar of sugar? Because that is something that a person who is addicted to a true addictive substance (such as alcohol) might do.

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