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Why Do Addicts Crave Sugar?

A woman rejects sugary treats like donuts for healthier alternatives like fruit and vegetables.

Sweet tooth. Sugar high. Chocoholic. We joke about struggling with cravings for foods high in sugar, but there is a lot of truth behind the humor. Health professionals often recommend you consume no more than six to nine teaspoons of sugar per day, but the average American takes in closer to a quarter of a pound of sugar daily.

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for issues with alcohol, cocaine, opioids or other drugs, you may notice an increased fondness for sweets. Trading those more serious addictions for a problem with junk food might seem harmless, but sugar can pose a risk for someone in recovery. In fact, it might even predispose you towards issues with addiction in the future.

Is Sugar Addictive?

To answer this question, let’s look at how addiction works. Your brain’s pleasure center rewards you with feel-good chemicals like dopamine whenever you’re happy or satisfied. Drugs artificially trigger these systems and trick your brain into releasing abnormal amounts of those chemicals.

Your brain’s neural pathways light up every time you use. This encourages repeat behavior and eventually trains your mind to demand these substances. Before long, you find the same amount doesn’t pack quite the same punch, so you’re tempted to use more. Building up tolerance leads to an escalating cycle of use, dependence and addiction.

Research has shown similar brain activity between drug users and people ingesting large quantities of sugar.

Drugs Addicts and Sugar

Binging behavior is common among both drug and sugar addicts. Many people take drugs to deal with difficult emotions, and we all know an emotional eater or two (if we’re not guilty ourselves). Scaling back sugar can lead to withdrawals similar to those caused when you stop taking drugs. These symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy or low energy
  • Aches and pains
  • Shakes
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

These withdrawals aren’t as dangerous as those associated with drug use, but they can be uncomfortable enough to send someone in recovery back to old, destructive habits. Problematic diets high in sugar can also make someone more likely to struggle with drug addiction in the future.

Keeping Sugar Use in Check

When you or a loved one is recovering from drug addiction, it’s important to examine diet. The body needs plenty of nutrients to begin undoing the damage caused by drug use, and heavy sugar intake can sabotage this process. Unfortunately, sugar likes to hide in lots of places you might not expect. Processed foods and sugary drinks are both high in sugar. Watch out for these ingredients on your food and drink labels:

  • Agave nectar
  • Syrups
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Molasses

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Starting the day with a healthy breakfast and increasing protein intake can help you manage sugar cravings all day long. Stock up on healthier alternative snacks like nuts, yogurt or fruit, and curb dining out as much as possible. Getting plenty of rest and taking supplements like a multivitamin can also help maintain appropriate appetite and nutritional health. Be sure to consult with your physician before making any major dietary changes, though.
Risks of eating too much sugar may lead to:

  • Acne
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Increased cancer risk through obesity, inflammation in the body and insulin resistance
  • Feelings of depression due to fluctuating sugar levels
  • Fatty liver
  • Kidney disease risk
  • Tooth decay
  • Gout
  • Increased risk of dementia

Recovery Treatment for the Body, Mind and Spirit

At Footprints Beachside Recovery, we treat addiction by dealing with all aspects of wellness, including physical fitness. We’re known in the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida for providing comprehensive, compassionate care because we’ve been through addiction and recovery ourselves. We know what it takes to get through this, and we can help you or your loved one recover, too.

Are you having trouble talking to your loved one about addiction or seeking treatment? Overcoming addiction stigma is one of the main roadblocks people encounter before getting help. Talk to one of our team members today to find out how your family can begin the next healthier, happier chapter of life by working towards sobriety.

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