SUGAR vs COCAINE, Which is more addictive?

Is Sugar as Addictive as Cocaine?

It’s legal, socially accepted, and lurking in everything we eat.

Let’s face it we use sugar as a reward; we express love and admiration through sugary treats, celebrate holidays and reward ourselves with it. We have a bad day and say, “We deserve it”. We add sugar to our coffee, bake it into our favorite treats, and spoon it over our breakfast. We love this stuff. We crave it. But, are we addicted to it?

There’s an increasing body of research that tells us sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain.

“Addiction is a strong word,” says Alan Greene M.D., a children’s health and wellness expert and the author of books like “Raising Baby Green” and “Feeding Baby Green.” “In medicine we use ‘addiction’ to describe a tragic situation where someone’s brain chemistry has been altered to compel them to repeat a substance or activity despite harmful consequences. This is very different than the casual use of ‘addiction’ (‘I’m addicted to “Game of Thrones!”’).”

“So, I’m serious when I say that evidence is mounting that too much added sugar could lead to true addiction,” says Greene.

What is a sugar addiction?

The link between sugar and addictive behavior is tied to the fact that, when we eat sugar, dopamine is released.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a central part of the brains reward circuit associated with addictive behavior. When a certain behavior causes an excess release of dopamine, you feel a pleasure, a “high” that you are inclined to re-experience, and so you repeat the behavior. As you repeat that behavior more and more, your brain adjusts to release less dopamine. The only way to feel the same “high” as before is to repeat the behavior in increasing amounts and frequency. This is known as substance abuse.

There has been extensive research that shows sugar can be even more addicting than some drugs, like cocaine. Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center, which leads to compulsive behavior, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more. Studies in rats have shown that sugar activates the brain’s pleasure centers more than cocaine does.

The main perpetrator is not glucose, but fructose, which researchers have dubbed “alcohol without the buzz.”

In the United States, intake of added sugar is far beyond recommended limits, and almost half of it is coming from Sweetened beverages laced with High Fructose Corn Syrup. I won’t get into the political side of this argument, but will only say the corn industry is highly subsidized and the production of high fructose corn syrup can be linked partially to the Obesity epidemic in children.

Studies suggest that every time we eat sweets we are reinforcing those neuro-pathways, causing the brain to become increasingly hardwired to crave sugar, building up a tolerance like any other drug. Research on rats from Conneticut College has shown that Oreo cookies activate more neurons in the brain’s pleasure center than cocaine does (and just like humans, the rats would eat the filling first). And a 2008 Princeton study found that, under certain circumstances, not only could rats become dependent on sugar, but this dependency correlated with several aspects of addiction, including craving, binging, and withdrawal. Researchers in France agree that the casual link between sugar and illegal drugs doesn’t just make for dramatic headlines. Not only is there truth to it, but also they determined the rewards experienced by the brain after consuming sugar are even “more rewarding and attractive” than the effects of cocaine.

Medical addiction changes brain chemistry to cause binging, craving, withdrawal symptoms, and sensitization. Excess added sugar can do this too, through changes in the same pathways as addiction to amphetamines or alcohol. Sugar addiction could be an even harder habit to break, according to recent evidence about how added sugar affects our stress hormones. Sugar is also much more prevalent, available, and socially acceptable than amphetamines or alcohol, and truth be told harder to avoid as it is hidden in almost every processed food we eat. It comes in many forms but the result is the same.

So, whether or not sugar is more addictive than cocaine, researchers and nutritionists are in agreement that yes, sugar has addictive properties, and we need to be getting less of it.

“The drug analogy is always a tough one because, unlike drugs, food is necessary for survival,” says Andy Bellatti, M.S., R.D., strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity. “

That said, there is an increasing body of research demonstrating that sugar can stimulate the brain’s reward processing center in a manner that mimics what we see with some recreational drugs. In certain individuals with certain predispositions, this could manifest as an addiction to sugary foods.

What is added sugar?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been cautioning people to reduce their intake of “free sugars” to less than 10 percent of daily calories since 1989, saying that doing so can lower your risk for being obese, overweight, or experiencing tooth decay. “Free sugars” include both the sugars naturally found in honey and fruit juice, and sugar added to food and drinks. On food labels, added sugars include words such as glucose, corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose. Read the labels closely and pay attention to those hidden sugars in your food.

In 2015, the WHO further suggested reducing free sugar intake to less than 5 percent of calories, about 6 teaspoons. In the United States, added sugars account for 14 percent of the average person’s calorie intake. Most of this comes from beverages, including energy drinks, alcoholic drinks, soda, fruit drinks, and sweetened coffee and teas, says the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion(ODPHP).

Other common sources are snacks. These don’t just include obvious perpetrators, like brownies, cookies, doughnuts, and ice cream. You can also find large quantities of added sugar in bread, salad dressing, granola bars, and even fat-free yogurt. In fact, one survey found that high-calorie sweeteners are in over 95 percent of granola bars, cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages, most often in the form of corn syrup, sorghum,  cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup. The ODPHP 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines suggest cutting consumption of added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.

To help consumers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed a new food label that lists added sugars separately, which manufacturers will be required to use beginning in 2018.

We need food to survive and we do not advocate elimination of sugars.  Sugar is necessary to the body functioning properly. The problem is that we aren’t meant to add sugars in such concentrated amounts. In nature, sugar is found surrounded by fiber, in sugar cane and fruits. It naturally comes in a container that produces a shorter blood sugar response and aids in fullness. Today’s sugars are refined and concentrated.

Can we change?

Yes, the good news is that we can adapt our taste buds to accept less sugar. Reducing sugar, especially concentrated sugars, not only limits the amount of sugars ingested but also makes less sweet foods seem sweeter.

Ways to change?

  • Check your labels for added (hidden) sugars
  • Consume your needed sugars as they were “meant to be taken” with the natural fiber that reduces the sugar high and better blood sugar control. Avoid Type ll Diabetes.
  • Limit your intake of processed sugars (keep a journal) you will be surprised that by keeping a journal how much sugar you are really consuming.
  • Limit your Sugary treats, Sodas, Special Coffee and Sports Drinks


You can do this… everything in life is a choice; you can make the choice to change!


Thought for the Week:

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale