Is Sugar Addictive?


Quick Answer

The topic of sugar addiction is still controversial among scientists, but as of 2014 scientists are slowly reaching a consensus that overeating sugar results in behavioral and neurological changes that mimic addiction. However, psychologist Ashley Gearhardt cautions against understanding sugar addiction as if it were nicotine or alcohol.

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Full Answer

Sugar triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, resulting in feelings of pleasure strong enough to override feelings of satiation or fullness from the stomach. Over time, a person might find himself developing a tolerance, needing to eat more sugar to trigger the same release of chemicals.

A person might overeat sugar as a form of emotional eating to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety or sadness. Stress releases cortisol which can be balanced out by the release of dopamine or serotonin, which occur when someone eats sugar.

Symptoms of food addiction include eating despite lack of hunger or to the point of illness. A food addict might go out of his way to obtain what he's looking for or be unable to control how much he eats. When the need to eat overwhelms socializing and fulfilling responsibilities or otherwise impairs his ability to function, he is classified as an addict. He may also suffer from psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.

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