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Sugar is a heavily consumed product present in various food and beverage options. While many have speculated on its “addictive” qualities, can it really be compared (on scale) to something as illegal and damaging as cocaine?

Is Sugar REALLY Addictive?

You would think the sweet stuff would be easier to give up than a substance so strong, illegal, and altogether damaging. However, various data sources report that sugar is probably the most consumed addictive substance worldwide, and is often compared to cocaine due to its dramatic parallels and overlaps with drug-like effects. Studies show that roughly 75% of Americans overindulge on sugar. Further, a sizable portion of this percentage consume so much in excess that it can be classified as an addiction.

Studies have identified various behavioral classifiers present in one with a sugar addiction (which mirror one with a drug addiction). A “sugar addict” can experience withdraws, behavioral changes, and spouts of binging on large quantities of sugar. Further, sugar may be used as a coping mechanism due to emotional stress, as well as a source of soothing.

What We Know About Both Substances

Both stimulate our brain’s pleasure centers…
Sugar activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as cocaine, and to an equally powerful extent. When an individual eats sugar (especially in large quantities), feel-good chemicals like dopamine and opioids are released, activating the “reward circuit” in the brain. This is similar to the way the brain reacts to the ingestion of substances like heroin and cocaine. 

As explained above, both are highly addictive…
Sugar triggers dopamine “hits” in the brain, making us crave more of it. Every time we eat sweets, we are reinforcing those neural pathways, causing the brain to become increasingly hardwired to crave sugar, building up a tolerance like any other drug. Many people claim that they feel compelled to eat sweet foods, similar in some ways to how an alcoholic might feel compelled to drink. Over time, greater amounts are required to reach that same feel-good state, just as drug addicts use more to chase their original high.

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What Else Do We Know?

Both are harmful to the body…
Throughout the body, excessive amounts of sugar can be extremely harmful. Sugar results in slowed cognitive function and deficits in both memory and attention. Additional research shows that a high sugar diet reduces the production of brain chemical essentials for new memory formation, learning, and retention.

Both are abused…
Studies show that the average American eats about three pounds of sugar per week, which is the equivalent of 6 standard bags found at most grocery stores! While adults in the U.S consume more than three to four times the daily recommended intake of six teaspoons, children are nearly quadrupling that number. Further, an astounding 33% of excess sugar consumption comes from beverages. For example, a 12-ounce can of soda contains eight teaspoons of added sugar.

You should consume sugar responsibly!

Although sugar is not an illegal substance, it’s safe to say it has more parallels to illegal drugs than we would like to think. It’s extremely important to understand the effects sugar has on us, as it plays a huge role in our everyday lives. This is especially true if you have an addictive personality, are overly prone to sweet cravings, or struggle with self-control.

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