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Sugar Addiction Effects

While sugar addiction may not appear as severe as substance abuse, its consequences are real. Recognizing the physical and mental effects of sugar addiction is the initial step in identifying risks. Improved education about sugar risks can prompt individuals to seek help, leading to a life free from sugar dependence.

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What Are The Effects of Sugar Addiction

Although sugar addiction may not seem as serious as substance abuse issues with drugs and alcohol, the consequences of sugar addiction and overconsumption of sugar are very real.

Understanding the physical and mental effects of sugar addiction is the first step to identifying the risks of this condition. With better education about the risks of sugar, more individuals struggling may reach out for help and achieve a life free of sugar dependence and addiction.

Physical Effects of Sugar Addiction

Sugar’s negative effect on physical health has been a huge focus of the diet and fitness industry for decades.

Not all sugar is bad; many fruits, vegetables, and grains have natural sugars our body needs to function. However, excessive sugar intake can lead to many physical health complications.

Nausea

Having an overload of sugar in your body can cause feelings of sickness or nausea because your body cannot utilize and store the excess sugar properly. Sugar, especially super sweet high-fructose corn syrup, can stimulate short-term insulin release and cause your blood sugar to spike.

Super sugary foods like candy, ice cream, cereals, soft drinks, and carbohydrates can cause these blood sugar spikes. The rapid change in blood sugar can also lead to feelings of nausea.

Fatigue

Feeling tired after eating foods with high sugar content is quite common. Fatigue from sugar typically happens because sugar intake decreases the activity of the hormone orexin.

Orexin helps regulate sleep/wake stability and feeding behavior, and sugar can cause the inactivation of orexin, leading to fatigue. Consuming sugar also causes blood sugar levels to spike and then drop, leading to fatigue.

Dental Decay

Sugar consumption can worsen dental decay, leading to bad breath, cavities, root canals, and gum disease. Dental decay occurs because sugar interacts with the bacteria within the plaque to produce acid, slowly dissolving your teeth’s enamel.

Joint Pain

Eating large amounts of sugar can worsen joint pain due to how sugar causes inflammation. In addition, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that eating or drinking sugar can increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Cardiovascular Disease

High-sugar diets and sugar addiction can lead to extra insulin in your bloodstream, which can cause artery walls to become inflamed.

Over time, artery walls grow thicker and more stiff, causing stress and damage to your heart. Such damage can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

According to research, lowering your sugar intake can help blood pressure, which is a major risk for heart disease. Individuals who eat a lot of added sugar are twice as likely to die of heart disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

By far, the largest physical effect of sugar addiction is the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The hormone insulin helps metabolize sugar, but if too much sugar is in the body and glucose levels rise, then insulin resistance can occur.

The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with extreme weight gain and obesity. Eventually, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Artificial sweeteners are often considered a solution for type 2 diabetics, but certain artificial sweeteners can increase cravings, food intake, and weight gain since your body still craves the sweet taste of these non-sugar sweeteners.

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Mental Effects of Sugar Addiction

Despite the ongoing debate on sugar addiction’s existence, research has shown that overeating sugar can produce addiction-like effects in the human brain.

Some of sugar’s effects on the brain are similar to those of addictive drugs, even causing withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from sugar.

Sugar Cravings

Research from Columbia University has indicated that sugar activates the same receptors opioids activate in the brain. Consuming sugar affects the brain’s reward system and dopamine receptors, which leads to cravings and compulsive behavior.

The brain’s reward center releases the feel-good chemical dopamine, a hormone that’s closely tied to addiction. Intense sugar cravings can occur as the brain becomes dependent on the release of dopamine caused by sweet food.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a common effect of eating a high amount of sugar. The body releases insulin to help absorb the excess sugar and stabilize blood sugar levels. However, the resulting sugar rush can make the body work too hard to get back to normal, causing increased anxiety.

Depressed Mood

There is a link between the overconsumption of sugar and depression, according to a study from the University College London. It’s believed that the connection between sugar addiction and depression is due in part to the inflammation sugar tends to cause.

Although depression is a complex mental health condition with many contributing factors, many healthcare providers recommend cutting back on sugar and weight loss as a way to treat depression.

Difficulty Concentrating

Although overeating sugary foods can boost energy, that surge of alertness doesn’t last long. After about 20 minutes, glucose levels drop, leaving you easily distracted and unfocused.

For people with an occasional sweet tooth, difficulty concentrating passes somewhat quickly.

Sugar addicts, on the other hand, may experience prolonged issues with concentration. As they crash from their sugar rush, sugar withdrawal symptoms kick in and worsen focus even more.

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Get Help for Sugar Addiction

Although sugar addiction may not seem as serious as drug addiction, sugar issues can lead to some serious mental and physical effects when left untreated.

Like food addiction, sugar addiction rarely requires inpatient care; therapy and diet changes are often the main form of treatment.

You can start by speaking with your primary healthcare provider about your symptoms and what treatment may work for you.

If you don’t know where to start, you can find a therapist through SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to see what providers are in your area.

FAQs About the Effects of Sugar Addiction

What are some of the negative effects of too much sugar?

Too much sugar consumption can lead to some serious mental and physical effects.

The most common negative side effects of sugar addiction include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Dental decay
  • Joint issues
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Obesity
  • Eating disorders
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating

How does sugar affect the brain?

Sugar activates the reward center in the brain, often interacting with the same receptors that opioids activate. In this way, sugar addiction or dependence behaviors can look similar to those associated with substance use.

As the brain becomes more and more dependent on the release of dopamine from sugar, withdrawal symptoms may arise.

Common symptoms of sugar withdrawal include:

  • Disrupted sleep or insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills or sweating
  • Weight gain
  • Strong sugar cravings
  • Increased feelings of hunger
  • Increased fatigue and tiredness

What is the difference between a sugar addiction and diabetes?

Sugar addiction is an emotional or psychological dependence on sugary foods and drinks. Diabetes, on the other hand, is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy and manages sugar.

How does sugar addiction affect your mood?

Sugar has been strongly linked to symptoms of depression due to how sugar increases inflammation in the body. The constant ups and downs of energy due to sugar spikes and crashes can also lead to mood instability, with irritability being a common symptom of sugar withdrawal.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/
  3. Hughes, L. (2022, April 6). How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/how-sugar-affects-your-body
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  5. Mysels, D. J., & Sullivan, M. A. (2010). The Relationship Between Opioid and Sugar Intake: Review of Evidence and Clinical Applications. Journal of Opioid Management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3109725/
  6. The Sweet Danger of Sugar. Harvard Health. (2022, January 6). https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
  7. Wiss, D. A., Avena, N., & Rada, P. (2018, October 12). Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545/full

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